The U.S. Justice Department on Monday gave the green light to the Louisiana House plan for redrawing its election districts to reflect population shifts since the 2000 U.S. census.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have been pre-cleared,” House Speaker Jim Tucker told his colleagues late Monday, holding a letter from Justice’s Civil Rights chief.
The Justice Department’s approval of the House plan means that fall legislative elections will be run using the newly shaped 105 House districts.
For copies of the U.S. Department of Justice’s letter to the Louisiana House, go to http://www.2theadvocate.com/blogs/politicsblog
The capital area gets increased political influence with extra districts created because of population growth in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes. Included is a new majority black district in East Baton Rouge Parish.
State Senate President Joel Chaisson II told senators Monday that there was no similar sign-off yet on the Senate’s realignment of its 39 election districts.
“They indicated they would get to us in short order,” said Chaisson, D-Destrehan. “I don’t know when that will be.”
The U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act must approve Louisiana election law changes because of the state’s history of discriminatory election practices and procedures.
Tucker said he thought it “highly unlikely” a successful court challenge would go forward. “I believe everybody will be running from these districts this fall,” he said.
The Legislative Black Caucus, however, is looking into filing a federal court suit because of the plan’s failure to maximize black election opportunities, its chairwoman state Rep. Pat Smith said.
Justice has been reviewing House and Senate election district plans hammered out during a special spring legislative session.
Members of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus filed objection with the Justice Department, getting aid from the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, over the 30th district.
“What they (Justice officials) recognized was it was our intention to ensure minority participation in the Caddo area,” Tucker said.
Creation of the 30th majority black district “would have caused a reduction in representation of minorities” based on voting patterns in the area, Tucker said.
Instead of three majority black districts, there would have been four in Caddo Parish under the plan the Black Caucus proposed.
The plan would have been accomplished by reducing the number of black voters in each of the districts including one that is currently more than 90 percent black voter.
Black lawmakers argued throughout that there was an opportunity to draw the 30th majority district based on where black voters reside and past election results. They said one district currently is overloaded with black voters.
Black Caucus Chairwoman Smith, D-Baton Rouge, said the caucus is disappointed in Justice’s upholding of the 29 majority black district plan — two more than currently exist.
“We had always said it would be a toss-up under Section 5,” said Smith.
Under Section 5, the House had to show that its proposed election district change would not have a “retrogressive” effect — one that would worsen the position of minority voters.
The state also had to show that the change was not discriminatory.
But Smith said the caucus can still object under another provision which bans political bodies from adopting redistricting plans that reduce minority voting strength.
Smith said the black caucus will talk with officials of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund “to determine strategy.”
The House got the word of approval in a letter from Thomas Perez, U.S. assistant attorney in the civil rights division.
“The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified change,” Tucker read to the House.
On Monday, both the House and Senate had postured itself in case the chambers had to make changes to fix any flaws Justice found in the plans.
Both chambers worked to get “shell” bills through the legislative process that mirror the plans at Justice so they would have a vehicle ready to alter during the current legislative session if there are problems.