Louisiana lawmakers pass new congressional map with second majority-Black district

Jan 19, 2024, 12:45 PM

Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the start of the special session in the House Chamber on Monday, Jan...

Gov. Jeff Landry speaks during the start of the special session in the House Chamber on Monday, Jan. 15, 2024 in Baton Rouge, La. Landry called for the special session only a few hours after taking office. (Michael Johnson/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

(Michael Johnson/The Advocate via AP, Pool)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Legislature passed a congressional map with a second majority-Black district on Friday, marking a win for Democrats and civil rights groups after a legal battle and political tug-of-war that spanned nearly two years.

Democrats have long fought for a second majority-minority district among Louisiana’s six congressional districts — arguing that the political boundaries passed by the GOP-dominated legislature in 2022 discriminates against Black voters, who make up one-third of Louisiana’s population. The change could deliver an additional seat in Congress to the Democratic Party.

The GOP has resisted drawing another minority district, arguing that the 2022 map is fair and constitutional. But in an about-face this special legislative session, the map received bipartisan support after Republicans said their hands had been tied by a looming Jan. 30 court-mandated deadline and fears that a federal judge, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama, would redraw the map herself if the task was not by completed lawmakers.

The legislation now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jeff Landry, where it is expected to receive his seal of approval. During the special session this week, Landry has repeatedly urged the Legislature to adopt a new map that would satisfy the court, instead of possibly putting the task in the hands of “some heavy-handed federal judge.”

Louisiana is among the states who were wrangling over congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act.

Under the new map, 54% of the voting-age population in the district currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Garret Graves would be Black — up from the current 23%. Graves opposes the plan, saying in a statement to The Advocate that it “ignore(s) the redistricting principles of compactness and communities of interest.” Other Republicans on the state House and Senate floors echoed this concern.

GOP state Rep. Glen Womack, who filed the legislation, said that race was not the “predominate factor” in deciding where the new boundaries would lie, but rather “politics drove this map.” Womack said he prioritized protecting the seats of U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson and U.S. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, as well as that of Congresswoman Julia Letlow, who represents Womack’s region and sits on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations.

Under the 2022 map, which was used in last November’s election, there is one majority-Black district — the 2nd District, which encompasses most of New Orleans and stretches to Baton Rouge, and is represented by U.S. Rep. Troy Carter. Carter is the state’s sole Black and Democratic member of Congress.

The 2022 map has been at the center of political woes in the state Capitol, with former Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoing the political boundaries and the Legislature overriding his veto — their first override of a governor’s veto in nearly three decades.

In June 2022, Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick struck down Louisiana’s map for violating the Voting Rights Act. Dick said in her ruling that “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.”

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Louisiana lawmakers pass new congressional map with second majority-Black district