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The Supreme Court orders Louisiana to use its congressional map with additional black districts in the 2024 ballot

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered Louisiana to hold 2024 congressional elections using a House map with a second majority-black district, despite a lower court ruling that called the map an illegal racial gerrymander.

The order allows the use of a majority-Black map in two of the state’s six congressional districts, potentially boosting Democrats’ chances of gaining control of the closely divided House of Representatives in the 2024 elections .

The justices acted on emergency appeals filed by the state’s top Republican elected officials and black voters, who said they needed the Supreme Court’s intervention to avoid confusion as the election approached. About a third of Louisiana is black.

The Supreme Court’s order does not address a lower court ruling that found the map relied too heavily on race. Instead, it only prevents another card from being drawn for this year’s elections.

The Supreme Court could decide at a later date to hear arguments on the decision to destroy Louisiana’s map.

The court’s three liberal justices disagreed with Wednesday’s order. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote that the judges who rejected the latest map should have been given the opportunity to produce a new map before the Supreme Court intervened.

“There is little risk of voter confusion if a new map is imposed so far before the November election,” Jackson wrote.

Liberal justices disagree with previous Supreme Court orders delaying decisions near elections. These orders invoked the need to allow sufficient time for voters and election officials to ensure an orderly vote. “When an election is approaching, the rules of the road must be clear and established,” Judge Brett Kavanaugh wrote two years ago in a similar case from Alabama. The court has never set a hard deadline for “how close is too close.”

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Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill said she was pleased with the order. “The Secretary of State has consistently stated that she needed a card by May 15,” Murrill said in an emailed statement. “The plaintiffs did not dispute this during the trial. We will continue to defend the law and are grateful that the Supreme Court granted the reprieve, which will ensure that we have a stable election season.”

An attorney for black voters praised the court’s actions. “We are very relieved that SCOTUS agrees with us that the election is too close to cause uncertainty. … We will have a map this fall with two predominantly black districts,” wrote Jared Evans, an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a text that used an abbreviation for the Supreme Court.

Edward Greim and Paul Hurd, attorneys for plaintiffs who challenged the new map, said Wednesday’s order allows the state to impose a “brutal racial gerrymander” on 2024 voters who will cast ballots in districts that are “segregated by race’. But they predicted the final victory in the case.

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Louisiana has had two congressional maps blocked by federal courts in the past two years in a whirlwind of lawsuits, including an earlier Supreme Court intervention.

The state’s Republican-dominated Legislature drew a new congressional map in 2022 to account for population shifts reflected in the 2020 census. But the changes essentially preserved the status quo of five white districts with a Republican majority and one Black district with a Democratic majority.

Advocates for the state’s black population noted that civil rights activists challenged the map in a federal court in Baton Rouge and won a ruling by U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick that the districts likely discriminated against black voters.

The Supreme Court stayed Dick’s ruling while it considered a similar case from Alabama. The justices allowed both states to use the maps in the 2022 election, even though both had been declared likely discriminatory by federal judges.

The Supreme Court ultimately upheld Alabama’s ruling and sent the Louisiana case back to federal court, expecting new maps to be issued for the 2024 elections.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave Louisiana lawmakers a deadline of early 2024 to draw a new map or face the possibility of a court-ordered map.

New Governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, had defended Louisiana’s congressional map as attorney general. But now he urged lawmakers to approve a new map with another black-majority district during a special session in January. He supported a map that created a new, predominantly black district stretching across the state and connecting parts of the Shreveport, Alexandria, Lafayette and Baton Rouge areas.

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Another group of plaintiffs, a group of self-identified non-African Americans, filed suit in western Louisiana, claiming the new map was also illegal because it was overly defined by race, unconstitutional. A divided panel of federal judges ruled 2-1 in their favor in April, blocking use of the new card.

Landry and Murrill, a Republican ally, argued that the new map should be used and said it was adopted with political considerations — and not race — as the driving factor. They note that it provides politically safe districts for House Speaker Mike Johnson and Majority Leader Steve Scalise, fellow Republicans. Some lawmakers have also noted that the only Republican whose district has changed significantly on the new map is Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican opponent of Landry’s, endorsed in last fall’s gubernatorial race. The change in Graves’ district strengthens the argument that politics was the driving factor and not race, lawmakers said.

Voting patterns show that a new, predominantly black district would give Democrats the opportunity to gain another seat in the House and send a second black representative to Congress from Louisiana. Democratic state Sen. Cleo Fields, a former congressman who is Black, has said he will run for Congress in the new district if it comes before the next election.

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McGill reported from New Orleans.

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