Advocates say Supreme Court must preserve new, mostly Black US House district for 2024 elections

Published 9:01 pm Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Voting rights advocates said Wednesday they will go to the Supreme Court in hopes of preserving a new majority Black congressional district in Louisiana for the fall elections, the latest step in a complicated legal fight that could determine the fate of political careers and the balance of power in the next Congress.

A divided panel of federal judges on Tuesday rejected a map approved in January by an unusual alliance of Republicans, who dominate the Legislature, and Democrats who want a second mostly Black — and mostly Democratic — congressional district.

Republican state Attorney General Liz Murrill said she would appeal Tuesday’s ruling. And a coalition of individuals and civil rights groups filed a formal notice Wednesday saying they would go to the Supreme Court.

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Jared Evans, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that by the end of the week advocates will ask the Supreme Court to keep the new maps in place for 2024, pending further legal action. He cited the need to have district maps in place soon. State election officials have said they need to know what maps to use by May 15 for the fall elections.

The same judicial panel that rejected the new map — often referred to by its legislative bill number, SB8 — set a Monday status conference to discuss what the state must do next. Evans said there are numerous options, including the appointment of a special master to draw a map or giving the Legislature another chance. But Evans said time is growing short.

“At this point with the election six months away, the Supreme Court’s going to have to step in and say SB8 can move forward or it can’t,” Evans said.

Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the process.

“The constant inconsistency of the Federal Courts is remarkable and disappointing,” Landry said Wednesday in Baton Rouge. “The people of Louisiana deserve better from our Federal Courts. Either the Legislature is in control of drawing a map or Federal Courts are, but they both can’t be!”

Landry, a former attorney general, had defended a 2022 map with only one mostly Black district among six. But, ruling in a Baton Rouge-filed lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick blocked use of the 2022 map. She said it likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act with boundary lines that divided Black voters among five mostly white districts. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later gave lawmakers a deadline for coming up with a new map.

Landry, who became governor in January, urged the Legislature to draw a new map rather than leave it to the federal courts. With Landry’s backing, SB8 was approved.

But a group of 12 self-identified non-African American voters filed a lawsuit in western Louisiana against the new district, which slashes across the state to link Black populations in four disparate metropolitan areas from the northwest to the southeast. They said it was drawn with race as the predominant motivation.

Two members of a three-judge panel appointed to hear that constitutional challenge sided with the plaintiffs, setting up the pending Supreme Court challenge. A third judge dissented, saying evidence showed political considerations — including protection of the districts of House Speaker Mike Johnson and House Republican Leader Steve Scalise — had been a major motivation.

The new map sacrificed the district of Republican incumbent Garret Graves, who supported a GOP opponent of Landry in last year’s governor’s race. State Sen. Cleo Fields, a Black Democratic former congressman, has said he will run for the seat.