Louisiana’s congressional and state legislative lines are drawn by the legislature, subject to gubernatorial veto.
The state legislative maps were signed into law on March 14, 2022. The congressional map was vetoed by Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards, citing the map as “run[ning] afoul of federal law” due to the fact that only one of its six districts are majority-Black despite Black voters making up a third of the state according to the latest decennial Census.35 The Republican-majority legislature overrode the veto; the map was signed into law on March 30, 2022.
A lawsuit was then filed immediately by the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, and nine voters to overturn the congressional map. The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana held that the map was racially discriminatory against Black voters and likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The district court ordered the creation of a second majority-Black congressional district.
The Louisiana Secretary of State appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and requested that it place a stay on the district court’s order. The Fifth Circuit denied the stay request, and the Secretary of State appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS agreed to put a temporary hold on the lower court’s order until after it decided Allen v. Milligan, a similar case concerning Alabama’s congressional map. On June 8, 2023, SCOTUS ruled that Alabama’s congressional map likely violated the Voting Rights Act and maintained a district court’s injunction ordering the creation of a second majority- Black congressional district.
Then, on June 26, 2023, SCOTUS lifted its hold on the lower court’s order in Louisiana and allowed the state’s appeal to move forward in the Fifth Circuit. SCOTUS noted that it expected the appellate court to make its final ruling “in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana.” As of early August 2023, the case remains in litigation in the Fifth Circuit.
Community of Interest Story
Several areas of the state were observed by community organizers to be disenfranchised, most notably areas with large Black populations such as Hopkinsville and Bowling Green. Hopkinsville was divided into two state house districts and Bowling Green was split three times. Both had populations that could have fit within one or two districts respectively.
Despite unprecedented community turnout and advocacy this redistricting cycle, the process was rife with the disregard of public input and the disenfranchisement of Black voters. Legislative leaders engaged in hostile tactics directed at shutting down dissenting voices. For example, during the Legislature’s special session following a federal court order to redraw the congressional map with two majority-Black districts, the livestream microphone and video was cut as members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus addressed the legislative body, eliminating access to the rest of the meeting for people watching from home.37 Despite the antagonistic atmosphere, organizers were able to train and engage thousands of people in giving testimony this cycle, and were able to launch a successful lawsuit in the Court of Appeals.
Overall State Grade: D-
Disenfranchisement of Black voters: Despite a slew of testimony and advocacy from both the public and Governor Edwards asking for the creation of a second majority-Black congressional district, and even a court order to do so, the state legislature ultimately was steadfast in limiting Black voting opportunity to one district.
Disregard of communities of interest: Advocates noted that the term “community of interest” was weaponized against organizers. For example, during federal court proceedings, a demographer testifying for the state produced an analysis which lobbied for a congressional map that outlined the historic settlements of groups in the 18th and 19th centuries, rather than outlining the current dispersal of communities of interest today. While this analysis ultimately was not accepted into the court’s ruling, it did make it into some of the legislative hearings.
In-person redistricting events provided some opportunities for feedback: The state did provide in- person events for the public in most major cities to participate and provide testimony on communities of interest. For example, listening sessions were held across the state in each major city; these were then recorded and uploaded to the state redistricting website. Unfortunately, there was no indication that this testimony was considered in the final maps.
- Unprecedented advocacy efforts uplift communities: Thousands of people were mobilized and turned out to give public testimony during this redistricting cycle. Organizations such as The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice trained and engaged over 1,000 people statewide to participate and sent over 235 people to the state capitol. Further, the Louisiana Redistricting Coalition submitted to the legislature 11 maps focused on keeping communities of interest together.
- Community of interest testimony must be incorporated: When hundreds of everyday people take time out of their working day to speak to their elected leaders about how they would like to see redistricting take their communities into account, the legislature or any decision-making body should consider the testimony. The legislature, made of people who were elected to represent constituents, should not and cannot disregard the public, the governor, and the courts.
- Wider efforts to encourage public participation are necessary: Advocates noted that the state did not encourage public participation, nor was the public website easy to understand. Most of the outreach efforts were done by community organizations. Further, advocates found that the media did not give sufficient coverage to community organizing efforts. There were also limited virtual options to participate, which organizers noted they particularly had pushed for – both for the public in general and as a disability rights access issue. Notably, on June 9, 2023, Governor Edwards signed into law SB80, written by State Senator Cleo Fields, which codified public access to the redistricting process.38 Amongst other mandates, it requires live, internet broadcasts of public hearings and requires for all official materials and public testimony presented at hearings to be posted on the official redistricting website.
- Language and disability access must be supported: Nearly 10% of the state speaks a language other than English at home.39 Yet, all government-led redistricting events were held only in English. An effort to incorporate more languages in outreach efforts would allow for more public participation and more robust feedback. Languages such as Spanish, Vietnamese, and French would be particularly useful in the Greater New Orleans area, for example.