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Federal court blocks Louisiana’s latest congressional map

The state, which redrew its map after one lawsuit, deals with another

Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., represents a Black opportunity district based in New Orleans.
Rep. Troy Carter, D-La., represents a Black opportunity district based in New Orleans. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A three-judge federal court in Louisiana stopped the state on Tuesday from using its new congressional map with two Black opportunity districts for any election, setting up a potential last-minute Supreme Court fight ahead of this fall’s election.

The state passed a new congressional map into law in January under a court order, after years of litigation over whether the previous map violated the Voting Rights Act because it minimized the political power of Black voters.

Tuesday’s 2-1 decision stops the state from using that new congressional map, finding the changes the state made to comply with the Voting Rights Act instead violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The predominate role of race in the State’s decisions is reflected in the statements of legislative decision-makers, the division of cities and parishes along racial lines, the unusual shape of the district, and the evidence that the contours of the district were drawn to absorb sufficient numbers of Black-majority neighborhoods to achieve the goal of a functioning majority-Black district,” the two judges wrote.

The decision, written by Judges David C. Joseph and Robert R. Summerhays, both of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, will likely be appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

Judge Carl E. Stewart of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit dissented from Tuesday’s decision, writing that the judges put a “tightly wrapped straight-jacket” on state decision-making in order to find the map violated the Equal Protection Clause.

“The totality of the record demonstrates that the Louisiana Legislature weighed various political concerns—including protecting of particular incumbents—alongside race, with no factor predominating over the other,” Stewart wrote.

In court papers, state officials have said the state has to have a finalized congressional map by May 15 to conduct the state’s elections on time. The judges set a status conference for May 6 in the case.

In the first map, Black voters made up about one-third of the state’s voting population but were a majority in only one of the state’s six congressional districts, the New Orleans-based seat of Democratic Rep. Troy Carter.

The state’s new map has one Black-majority district centered on New Orleans and another that stretches from Baton Rouge to Shreveport in northwestern Louisiana.

A group of voters in the state sued the state over the new map, arguing the new map violated the Constitution by prioritizing race in drawing the new lines.

The judges held a trial earlier this month before issuing Tuesday’s decision.

National Democratic Redistricting Committee Chairman Eric Holder in a statement criticized the “ideological nature” of the ruling and said it would likely head before the Supreme Court.

“This decision is a radical departure from multiple recent court decisions regarding Louisiana’s congressional map,” the former attorney general’s statement said.

Last-minute changes to congressional districts are rarely signed off on by the courts.

Earlier this year, a district court ruled that South Carolina can use its still-challenged congressional map in this fall’s elections, despite ruling last year that the state’s congressional map likely violated the 14th Amendment.

In the last congressional election cycle, the Supreme Court blocked the implementation of new congressional maps as early as February 2022.

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