After months of gathering voter opinions and weeks of deliberation, Louisiana legislators delivered plans Friday that protect themselves from being turned out of office by voters for the next decade.
Legislators will be elected from pretty much the same districts as they have been since 2011. For instance, 52 of the 105 House seats were drawn to count White residents as two-thirds or more of the district’s population. Fourteen districts have a supermajority of Black constituents. That’s 64.7% of the House being elected out of essentially single-race districts. Of the remaining districts, only five have less than 55% of one race, and therefore would be considered competitive.
“You’re likely to see a flurry of lawsuits,” Chris Kaiser, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, said Thursday night as the final deals were being cut.
Louisiana’s population grew slightly to 4.6 million people, according to the latest U.S. Census. But the number of White residents decreased 6.3% to 2.6 million people, or about 57% of the state’s overall population. The number of people identifying as Black grew 3.8% to 1.5 million, or 33.1% of the state’s total population. The numbers of Asians, Native Americans, Hispanics, and others grew dramatically to 779,535 people, accounting for 16.7% of Louisiana residents.
The near standstill reapportionment in the House and Senate extended to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the U.S. Congress. Republican legislative majorities could pass whatever they wanted, and they did.
Advocates wanted three of the eight elected BESE seats and two of the six congressional posts to come from districts drawn in ways that would give Black candidates a fighting chance to win an election. That didn’t happen.
Ashley K. Shelton, a community activist who rallied opponents at road show meetings and legislative hearings, was disappointed.
In the past, reapportionment generally took place behind closed doors. This time around, more than a dozen organizations, including Shelton’s Power Coalition for Equity & Justice, held forums and trainings for everyday citizens to use the sophisticated software and draft their own maps. Dozens of plans were submitted that would have increased minority representation.
Republican lawmakers said, repeatedly, that they looked at the possibility of additional majority-minority districts. But they said they couldn’t find ones that worked given the state’s populations, communities of interest and geography. State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, said she was concerned those maps would reduce the Black populations so low that Black candidates might not get elected. Rep. Lance Harris, R-Alexandria, told his colleagues: “Life does not give you what you want. It gives you what you deserve.”
Redistricting plans have ended up in court for 11 of the 35 states that completed their reapportionments.
The ACLU’s Kaiser says lawsuits in Louisiana will start being filed in the next few weeks by individuals claiming that they have been disenfranchised by the Legislature’s new redistricted maps. The key issue will be the interpretation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Section 2 does not say that representation needs to be proportional. But the courts have interpreted Section 2 to say that in a state with a history of racial polarization, another minority-majority district is warranted if that population lives close enough together that a district can be drawn in which past elections show a reasonable chance that minority voters can elect the candidate of their choice. Basically, a majority-minority district should be added if a district can be made compact enough to provide an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect preferred candidates.
With the stroke of his veto pen, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards can nullify any or all of the redistricting maps the Legislature approved Friday. Edwards said Monday he hasn’t decided yet, and won’t until the bills hit his desk. But Republican majority state legislators have overridden vetoes from Democratic governors in Kentucky and Kansas, and the Democratic-dominated General Assembly in Maryland brought its redistricting bills back to life after the Republican governor vetoed them.
Louisiana legislators haven't overridden a gubernatorial veto in decades. Lawmakers return to Baton Rouge in three weeks for their annual meeting overcoming their biggest obstacle to a veto override — returning to Baton Rouge.
Either way, the courts will be given Louisiana's cases as soon as Edwards vetoes, or doesn't.