Louisiana Legislature to reconvene on Wednesday to redraw congressional maps

(The Center Square) — Louisiana lawmakers are expected to convene a special session on Wednesday to redraw the state’s congressional district map after an appeals court denied a motion for permanent stay in the case.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily blocked a ruling by U.S. Middle District Court Judge Shelly Dick that ordered the Legislature to redraw a map to include a second minority majority district by June 20.

On Sunday, the appeals court denied a motion by Attorney General Jeff Landry to make the stay permanent while Legislative Republicans appeal the ruling. The decision means the Legislature must proceed with crafting a new map with two majority minority districts for the November elections as the case progresses in court.

“This is a big step in the right direction for the people of Louisiana, and I’m thankful to the U.S. Fifth Circuit for lifting the stay,” Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote in a statement on Sunday. “This has always been a straightforward case of simple math, simple fairness and the rule of law.

“According to the U.S. Census, African Americans make up nearly one-third of the voting population in Louisiana, and therefore, we should have a second majority minority congressional district,” he wrote.

Dick wrote in her June 6 ruling that the court would draw its own map “compliant with the laws and Constitution of the United States” if the Legislature fails to act.

The appeals court decision to lift the stay did not rule on the merits of the case, which will be considered by a three-judge panel with the 5th Circuit. The decision found Republican lawmakers “have not met their burden of making a ‘strong showing’ of likely success on the merits.”

Edwards vetoed the congressional map approved by lawmakers in February, and the Legislature voted 72-31 in the House and 27-11 in the Senate to override the veto.

The override vote prompted a lawsuit from civil rights groups and voting activists, who argued throughout a special redistricting session in February that the state’s growing black population deserves the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice in two of Louisiana’s six congressional districts.

Republicans countered that diluting the existing minority majority district held by U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, a Democrat from New Orleans, to create another could result in no opportunity and repeatedly cited competing priorities in the process, including state and federal laws and criteria set by the Legislature last year.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, who was responsible for ushering the congressional map through the Senate, said last week she’s “confident that the congressional map drawn by the Legislature complied with federal and state laws.”

Hewitt and Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, who carried the map in the House, told the Advocate a special session to address the map will likely start on Wednesday at noon and run for five days, concluding the day before Dick’s June 20 deadline.

“The 5th Circuit has not yet considered the merits of the case,” Hewitt told the news site on Sunday evening. “The legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch all have a role, with great deference given to the legislative branch, which has the constitutional responsibility to redistrict. We will continue to carry out our responsibilities.”

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund and others who sued over the new congressional map applauded the ruling on Sunday and are expected to be on hand this week to oversee the special session to create a new map for the November elections.

“Today’s decision is welcome news for Black voters in Louisiana who, for decades, have been racially gerrymandered into a single district that has diluted the power of their vote and their ability to elect candidates of their choice,” Mike McClanahan, president of the Louisiana State conference of the NAACP, said Sunday. “A new map with two majority-Black districts will finally give Black voters the full representation that is their right.”

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