Louisiana Republicans argue over congressional districts

Louisiana Republicans argue over congressional districts
AP/NEW ORLEANS — Voting rights activists and Louisiana Republican officials' attorneys were cross-examined by federal appeals court judges in New Orleans on Friday regarding whether Louisiana must follow Alabama's court-ordered route in creating a new congressional district that is primarily Black and how soon that could and should be done in advance of the next year's elections.

(R - Kyle Ardoin)

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act when its Republican legislature failed to create a second congressional district with a majority of Black people when it redrew the state's congressional map following the 2020 census, Louisiana is one of several states that are still at odds over congressional districts.

Landry, a Republican, and Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin were battling over an injunction issued by a federal judge on Friday. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick issued an injunction in 2022 after concluding that a congressional map created by the Republican-controlled Legislature of that year most certainly violated the Voting Rights Act. While the Black population makes up around one-third of the state, just one of the six congressional districts is predominately Black. A second district that is primarily Black is supported by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards.

One of the three judges hearing the case at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, suggested on Friday that the injunction, which mandates a new congressional map for 2024, might be upheld while also permitting a trial on the merits of the case, which could result in another map change prior to the 2026 election. However, Elrod also hinted that the court would throw out the 2022 injunction and give instructions for a hurried trial to make sure the matters are resolved in time for the elections the following year.
During Friday's hearing, Elrod and Judge Leslie Southwick both made a point of emphasizing that their inquiries should not be interpreted as a prediction of their decisions in the Louisiana case.

Despite the Alabama decision, members of the Republican-dominated Legislature have refused to create a new minority district.

At times, Southwick gave the impression that the state was not convinced enough about its case to warrant overturning the injunction.

"What would another hearing do that you didn't get to deal with, whatever it was, in 2022?" he posed to Attorney General Jeff Landry's representative, Jason Torchinsky.

Representing proponents of voting rights, Abha Khanna contended that the injunction must be maintained and that the process of creating new districts need to proceed immediately.

She stated, "The plaintiffs shouldn't be made to play chicken with the election calendar."

In essence ignoring the Alabama case, members of the Republican-dominated Legislature have opposed creating a new minority district.

Ardoin's lawyer, Phillip Strach, contended that racial factors could not be utilized to "stitch together" disparate districts into a unified district. He contended that a planned Black district would go against court precedents for compact districts by connecting portions of Baton Rouge to the Mississippi Delta region of rural north Louisiana.

The alternatives that proponents of voting rights have proposed thus far are "on average more compact" than the model that the state is attempting to maintain, according to their lawsuit against the state. They also referenced data showing that the area that connects the Delta and Baton Rouge brings together people with comparable social and economic goals.

If the cases result in more districts with a Black majority—likely leaning Democratic—the composition of the next Congress could be significantly affected.

Former President George W. Bush nominated both Elrod and Southwick to the 5th Circuit. Judge Carolyn Dineen King, who was nominated to the court by former President Jimmy Carter, was also hearing the case virtually.

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