Monday, July 15, 2024

A federal appeals court on Friday agreed with a lower-court ruling that Louisiana’s latest congressional map very likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters, and ordered the state to finalize a new map by Jan. 15.

The decision, issued by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said that the State Legislature should complete a new set of voting districts in time “for the result to be used for the 2024 Louisiana congressional elections.”

Louisiana is one of several Southern states led by Republicans that have been mired in legal battles as they face accusations of racial discrimination in their electoral maps.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters in its redistricting process. Last month, a federal judge ruled that Georgia had done the same, ordering that a new map be drawn in time for the 2024 elections.

The Fifth Circuit ruling on Friday pointed to the Supreme Court decision and said that “we now apply the court’s reasoning to the Louisiana redistricting.”

Jeff Landry, the state’s Republican governor-elect, was expected to call a special legislative session to address the issue. But Mr. Landry will not be inaugurated until Jan. 8, making it unclear whether lawmakers would have enough time to decide on a new map before the Jan. 15 deadline. He could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

It was not clear whether the outgoing governor, John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, would call for a special session before the end of his term. “I remain confident that we will have a fair map with two majority Black districts before the congressional elections next year,” he said in a statement.

After the 2020 census, all states were obligated to redraw their congressional districts to account for changes in their populations. By one measure, the census found that Louisiana’s Black population had grown by 3.8 percent in the previous decade, accounting for nearly a third of the state, while the number of white residents had declined by 6.3 percent. Roughly a third of the state’s population is Black.

But Louisiana’s Republican-led Legislature passed a map that included only one majority Black congressional district out of six in the state.

In March 2022, Governor Edwards, vetoed the map, saying that it “violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and further is not in line with the principle of fundamental fairness that should have driven this process.”

The Legislature overrode Mr. Edwards’s veto, prompting a coalition that included the N.A.A.C.P. Louisiana State Conference, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and nine Louisiana voters to challenge it.

Last summer, a federal judge in Louisiana ruled that the map had been racially gerrymandered and ordered lawmakers to create a second district that held a majority of Black voters.

Even so, Louisiana’s disputed map was used in the 2022 elections because of a legal doctrine holding that judges should not change election procedures too close to Election Day.

Black voters in the state have traditionally supported Democrats; a second majority Black district could tip the scale in that party’s favor and shift the balance of power in Congress, where Republicans control the House by only a slim majority.

If Louisiana lawmakers cannot approve a new map by the January deadline, the Fifth Circuit judges wrote, then the lower district court should hold a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections.” Lawmakers would not have a say in a map created by the courts.

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