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Louisiana House Map Is Blocked by Judge Who Calls It a Racial Gerrymander

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A federal judge ruled on Monday that Louisiana’s latest congressional map represented a racial gerrymander and should be redrawn to incorporate a second district that offers Black voters the prospect to elect a candidate of their selection.

The judge, Shelly D. Dick of america District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, ordered the State Legislature to supply a revised map of the state’s six congressional districts by June 20. She also directed the state to increase the filing deadline for House candidates, now set for June 22, to July 8.

Her 150-page ruling said the House map enacted by the Republican-controlled Legislature illegally packed Black voters into the Second Congressional District, then split the remaining Black voters among the many remaining five districts.

Civil rights groups argued that the Legislature could easily have created a second majority-Black congressional district, but selected as a substitute to effectively duplicate the one predominantly Black district that was within the preceding House map.

That district, which is roughly 70 percent Black, snakes along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to Latest Orleans. Much of it’s surrounded by the Sixth District, which is one-third Black.

Roughly a 3rd of the state’s population is African American — one among the most important shares of any state — while 57 percent of the state’s residents are white. The 2020 census showed that the state’s Black population had grown by 3.8 percent within the preceding decade, while the white population had declined by 6.3 percent.

Judge Dick’s opinion took pains to argue that her order gave good enough time for the state to attract a latest map and still hold primary elections, which occur on Nov. 8. The overall election is in December.

The Supreme Court has overruled numerous court decisions making changes in elections within the last two years, citing a legal doctrine called the Purcell principle that claims courts mustn’t make changes in laws or rules too near an election lest they confuse voters.

Most notably, the court in February reinstated an Alabama congressional map that a lower court had struck down as diluting the voting power of Black people, saying it will hear an appeal of the ruling after the November election.

Courts have yet to say how soon before an election day is simply too soon to override voting procedures, but Judge Dick, who was named to the bench by President Barack Obama, argued forcefully that the principle didn’t apply within the Louisiana case.

The state’s attorney general had said that an order to redraw maps would “act like a hurricane” on the state election schedule, however the judge said state officials themselves had testified that mechanics like reprinting ballots and telling voters which district they lived in, while inconvenient, were removed from inconceivable to perform.

“Placing a bureaucratic strain on a state agency with the intention to rectify a violation of federal law just isn’t analogous to a natural disaster,” she wrote. “Protecting voting rights is sort of clearly in the general public interest, while allowing elections to proceed under a map that violates federal law most definitely just isn’t.”

Black state legislators had argued for a second district in redistricting hearings last fall, with Ted James, on the time a state representative who led the Legislative Black Caucus, saying flatly that “one-third of six is 2.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a Democrat, had vetoed the Legislature’s House map in March, saying it was “simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and doesn’t meet the standards set forth within the federal Voting Rights Act.”

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