Louisiana Legislature to take on congressional redistricting in special session

LOUISIANA ILLUMINATOR (Piper Hutchinson) — Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry has ordered state lawmakers into a special session to begin Jan. 15 on redistricting and elections.

The wide-ranging call, issued just hours after Landry took office, calls on the legislature to update voting boundaries for the state’s congressional and Louisiana Supreme Court Districts. The governor also wants lawmakers to address campaign finance laws, federal election qualifying fees, primary elections and other election-related policy.

The Republican-dominated legislature approved new congressional maps in a 2022 special redistricting session. They maintained a single majority Black congressional district out of six, despite one-third of the state’s population being Black.

Black voters challenged the map in court, culminating in a November decision from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld a district court ruling that requires lawmakers to add a second majority Black district for Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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If the legislature approves a new map by a Jan. 31 federal court-imposed deadline, the plaintiffs can either accept the map or allow the court to rule on whether it complies with the Voting Rights Act. The federal law prohibits local and state officials from adopting laws that purposefully discriminate against voters on the basis of race, color or membership in a language minority group.

If the legislature doesn’t meet the deadline, a trial will be held on the validity of the 2022 map, which would likely result in the court redrawing the districts without legislative input. The special redistricting session must adjourn by Jan. 23, according to Landry’s call.

The Jan. 23 end date for the special session is the day before many of the state’s elected officials will travel to Washington D.C. Mardi Gras.

Drawing a second majority Black district would result in the loss of a safe Republican seat, most likely the 5th District seat U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow of Monroe currently holds. Redrawing the maps also potentially opens the door for foes of 6th District U.S. Rep. Garret Graves to make major changes to his Baton Rouge-based district.

Relations between members of the state’s congressional delegation are reportedly frayed from the drama that ensued after U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy was ousted. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who has spent years in house leadership, could not muster the votes from fellow Republicans to become the next speaker.

The process soured Graves, a McCarthy ally who some viewed as insufficiently supportive of Scalise. The speaker’s position eventually went to U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, who represents northwest Louisiana. Graves also supported one of Landry’s opponents in the gubernatorial election, former business lobbyist Stephen Waguespack.

Adding a second majority Black district would likely push Graves’ seat further to the east, setting him up for a potential challenger from St. Tammany Parish, a Republican stronghold for Scalise’s 1st District through his entire time in office.

The legislature is also expected to take up the state’s Supreme Court maps, which have not been changed since 1997 when data from the 1990 census was used. All of the justices on the court want their districts redrawn  to add a second majority-Black district among the courts seven seats, although there are differences between Chief Justice John Weimer and five justices who submitted a map that protects most of their incumbencies.

Landry supports a plan that splits up Weimer’s district and favors a candidate from his home base of Acadiana.

The governor also favors an end to Louisiana’s “jungle” primary that allows multiple candidates run with the top two finishers, regardless of party, advancing to a runoff if no one receives more than 50% of the vote. Landry wants to switch to a closed primary for each party, with the two winners facing off in the general election.

Editor’s Note: The following article from author Piper Hutchinson was originally published by the Louisiana Illuminator, an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization with a mission to cast light on how decisions in Baton Rouge are made and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianians. Read more from The Louisiana Illuminator @ www.lailluminator.com

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