Supreme Court Rejects Louisiana's Defense of Gerrymandered Congressional Map

supreme court rejects louisiana's defense of gerrymandered congressional map

Supreme Court Rejects Louisiana’s Defense of Gerrymandered Congressional Map

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed Louisiana’s emergency plea to block creation of a second Black-majority congressional district, following the justices’ decision earlier this month reaffirming Voting Rights Act provisions that protect minority voters from being cut out of political power.

Monday’s summary order was expected after the court rejected a similar bid by Alabama to throw out decades of Voting Rights Act precedents, which sometimes require that political districts be drawn that give minority voters the power to elect representatives of their choice.

Similar cases are pending in a handful of Southern states that, like Alabama and Louisiana, historically discriminated against Black citizens. Because voting in much of the South remains racially polarized—data presented in court shows that Black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats, while Republicans rely almost entirely on white support—creation of several more Black-majority districts in the South could undermine GOP efforts to retain its slim U.S. House majority in the 2024 elections.

“When minority voters face—unlike their majority peers—bloc voting [by whites] along racial lines, arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the State, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a nonminority voter,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for a 5-4 court in the Alabama case, Allen v. Milligan.

The Louisiana case now returns to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in New Orleans, where that court will consider the state’s appeal under the rules set out by the Alabama precedent. Monday’s unsigned order, which noted no dissents, said the case should proceed “in the ordinary course and in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana.”

To prevail at trial, plaintiffs in the Alabama and Louisiana cases had to demonstrate that voting in those states was polarized along racial lines. According to Democracy Docket, a progressive voting-rights website founded by Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias, the decision could affect redistricting cases in such states as Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.

After the 2020 census maintained Louisiana’s six seats in the U.S. House, the Republican-led state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s veto to adopt new political maps providing one Black-majority district centered in New Orleans, with white-majorities controlling the remaining five.

According to a plaintiffs’ brief, the state’s population growth “over the previous decade was driven entirely by minority Louisianians, with nearly half attributable to the Black community.” The state’s white population, meanwhile, fell by 5%.

After Black voters and civil-rights groups sued to invalidate the maps, a federal district judge in Baton Rouge, La., found the legislature’s plan illegally packed Black voters into the New Orleans district while disbursing the remainder of the state’s Black population among the other districts to make those voters largely powerless to elect a minority representative.

In a June 2022 order, Chief District Judge Shelly Dick noted that Black residents made up 33% of the state’s population but had a majority in only 17% of its House districts. She found a second Black-majority district could be drawn while respecting traditional criteria, such as compactness and keeping local communities together, and directed the state legislature to revise the maps accordingly.

Instead, Louisiana filed an emergency request with the Supreme Court to temporarily block the district court order. The justices granted the request, leaving the legislature-drawn map in place through the 2022 congressional midterm election.

The case remained on hold while the court considered the Alabama redistricting lawsuit. After Black voters prevailed in that case, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican, sent a letter to the Supreme Court arguing that his appeal raised enough additional questions to justify a separate hearing and decision from the justices.

The justices instead agreed with lawyers for the Black voters and civil-rights organizations, who argued the state’s emergency plea for Supreme Court intervention before the Fifth Circuit hears its appeal was unjustified.

Whichever party loses at the appeals court could still seek Supreme Court review under the normal schedule, although the justices have shown reluctance to disturb the rules in the run-up to Election Day.

Write to Jess Bravin at [email protected]

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