Judges block Louisiana’s congressional map. A Supreme Court appeal is likely

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A voter enters the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans to cast a ballot in the 2022 elections.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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Gerald Herbert/AP

A voter enters the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans to cast a ballot in the 2022 elections.

Gerald Herbert/AP

A federal court has blocked Louisiana from using the state’s new congressional map for this year’s elections, marking the latest twist in a long-running redistricting battle over the rights of the state’s Black voters.

This legal fight could help determine the balance of power in the next Congress and set up an opportunity for the Supreme Court to revisit the constitutionality of one of the key remaining parts of the embattled Voting Rights Act, which has been weakened by the high court’s conservative majority over the past decade.

In a 2-1 decision released on Tuesday, the three-judge court found that the map of voting districts — which Louisiana’s state legislature drew during a January special session with two majority-Black districts to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — violates the Constitution, ruling in favor of a group of self-described “non-African American” voters who argued that the state engaged in racial gerrymandering.

“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,” wrote U.S. District Judge David Joseph and Judge Robert Summerhays, both appointees of former President Donald Trump, in the majority opinion for the case known as Callais v. Landry.

In a dissenting opinion, 5th U.S. Circuit Judge Carl Stewart, a Clinton appointee, wrote, “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.”

The three-judge court has ordered all sides to meet on May 6 to discuss what map will be used for this year’s elections in Louisiana, but its ruling is expected to be appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

The case faces a looming deadline of May 15, when Louisiana’s top election official, Republican Secretary of State Nancy Landry, has said the state’s congressional map must be finalized in order to be used for this year’s races.

The state’s Republican-led lawmakers passed the challenged map with two majority-Black voting districts — which are likely to elect Democrats given how racially polarized voting is in Louisiana — after a federal judge in an earlier lawsuit found that the state’s previous map likely diluted the voting strength of the state’s Black voters.

In that previous map, Black Louisianans — who make up about a third of the state’s population — made up the majority in only one of the state’s six congressional districts.

Still, the Supreme Court allowed that map, which was struck down by U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick for likely violating the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, to be used in the 2022 midterm elections while the justices reviewed a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama.

In an unexpected ruling, the high court decided to uphold its past rulings on Section 2 and rejected the state of Alabama’s argument that race should not be taken into account when maps of voting districts are redrawn, unless there’s evidence of intentional discrimination.

Republican state officials in the South, however, have continued to put forth attempts to reshape how federal courts interpret the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination in elections.

Edited by Benjamin Swasey