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Newly sworn in, Louisiana’s governor calls for special session to draw new congressional map

In World
January 09, 2024

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — In his first hours in office, Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry on Monday called a redistricting special session, giving lawmakers the opportunity to draw and replace the state’s current congressional map that a federal judge said violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters.

Landry, a Republican, assumed office at noon on Monday and only a few hours later issued an executive order for a special session, calling lawmakers back to the Capitol from Jan. 15 to Jan. 23. But the session looks to go beyond just tackling Louisiana’s congressional map, with the governor issuing a list of other issues to address, including redrawing state Supreme Court districts and moving away from Louisiana’s current open primary election system to a closed one.

“The courts have mandated that the state of Louisiana redraw our congressional districts,” Landry said in a press release. “Redistricting is a state legislative function. That is why today, I followed the court order and made the call to convene the legislature of Louisiana into a special session on redistricting.”

Louisiana’s current GOP-drawn map, which was used in the November congressional election, has white majorities in five of six districts — despite Black people accounting for one-third of the state’s population. Another mostly Black district could deliver a second congressional seat to Democrats in the red state.

Officials have until Jan. 30 to pass new congressional boundaries, with a second majority-minority district. If they do not meet the deadline, a district court will hold a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections,” according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District court’s order in November.

Whether or not lawmakers will agree upon and advance a map remains to be determined. However, if they do, the new political boundaries could still be challenged in court.

Louisiana is among the list of states still wrangling over congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act. The battle over Louisiana’s congressional boundaries has played out in the legislative chambers and in court for more than a year and a half.

Democrats argue that the map discriminates against Black voters and that there should be two majority-minority districts. Republicans say the map is fair and argue that Black populations in the state are too dispersed to be united into a second majority-Black district. Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick agreed with civil rights groups’ arguments and struck down Louisiana’s map for violating the Voting Rights Act in June.

Dick said in her ruling that “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.” Dick, a President Barack Obama appointee, ordered that the map be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district, before it is sent to a federal New Orleans appeals court.

In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District set the Jan. 15 deadline to complete the new map. Dick granted a two-week extension.

Louisiana’s congressional boundaries aren’t the only ones that will be discussed during the special session.

In December, a majority of justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court sent a letter to Landry asking that lawmakers also consider redrawing the court’s districts, saying that its been 25 years since their districts have been redrawn and calling for a second majority Black district, WDSU-TV reported.

Landry supports a second majority-Black district among the Supreme Court’s seven seats, reported The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate.

Also on the special session docket are items that could change how elections are conducted, including moving away from the state’s open primary election system, known as a ‘jungle primary’ in which candidates of all party affiliations are on the same ballot. In a closed primary system, each party has its own primary election with the winning Democrat and Republican moving on to face each other.

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