UPDATE: Appeals Court Clears Way For Second Redistricting Session
Just days after it stayed a lower court's decision ordering the Louisiana Legislature to convene and create a congressional map with a second majority-minority district, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the way for that session to take place.
On Sunday, the same panel of three judges that on Thursday issued a stay on Middle District Judge Shelley Dick's order lifted that stay. That will allow lawmakers to begin the special redistricting session called by Governor John Bel Edwards to begin as scheduled. Per Governor Edwards's order, that session will begin on Wednesday and must conclude by June 20. That deadline coincides with the two-week deadline Judge Dick gave the legislature to draw the new map.
"Although we must acknowledge that this appeal's exigency has left us little time to review the record, we conclude that, though the plaintiff's arguments and the court's analysis are not without weakness, the defendants have not met their burden of of making a 'strong showing' of likely success on the merits," Judges Jerry Smith, Stephen Higginson, and Don Willet wrote in their opinion. "Nor do we conclude that the cautionary principle from Purcell v. Gonzalez, 549 U.S. 1 (2006) (per curiam), prevents the ordered remedy from taking effect. So we vacate the the administrative stay and deny the motion for for stay pending appeal."
Still, the court will still hear the appeal of Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Attorney General Jeff Landry, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, and Senate President Page Cortez.
"Nevertheless, we expedite this appeal to the next available merits panel, to be selected at random from the regular merits panels already scheduled to hear cases the week of July 4, 2022," the judges wrote. "Either before or after argument that week, that merits panel may, in its discretion, opt to reimpose a stay, and its more comprehensive review may well lead it to rule in the defendants’ favor on the merits. The plaintiffs have prevailed at this preliminary stage given the record as the parties have developed it and the arguments presented (and not presented). But they have much to prove when the merits are ultimately decided."
You can read the full 33-page decision below.
FIRST UPDATE: FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2022
Just days after Governor John Bel Edwards called a special session for legislators to draw new congressional maps with a second majority-minority district, a federal appeals court is staying a lower court's decision ordering that session.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay of Louisiana Middle District Judge Shelley Dick's ruling. On Monday, Dick ruled that the map approved by lawmakers in March was unfair to Black and other minority voters and did not "meet the standards set forth in the Voting Rights Act" of 1965. However, on Thursday, a panel of three judges from the appellate court stayed that ruling "pending further review." The parties in the case must submit their responses to the appeals court by close of business Friday.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is a defendant in the lawsuit, tweeted the news Thursday night.
On Friday morning, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder (R-Gonzales) and Senate President Page Cortez (R-Lafayette) issued a joint statement calling on Governor Edwards to cancel the special session.
That statement reads as follows:
"The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal has issued a stay of the June 6 district court’s ruling regarding congressional redistricting rendering the Governor’s proclamation calling and convening the Legislature into a special session unnecessary and premature. Until the courts have made a final determination on the congressional maps as they were passed by a super majority of the Legislature, we are asking the Governor to rescind his special session call. Before the judicial redistricting process is complete, any special session would be premature and a waste of taxpayer money."
However, critics were quick to point out what they see as hypocrisy by Schexnayder, Cortez, and the fellow GOP lawmakers. One pointed out that lawmakers spent more than $78,000 in taxpayers' dollars to hire a legal firm to help them draw the desired maps. According to reports, only four lawmakers had access to those special lawyers, and the vast majority of the legislature knew nothing about them until after the contract with the firm went into effect.
Another called out the state's GOP leaders for spending money on a lawsuit instead of drawing a map that would match the state's population--two-thirds white and one-third non-white.
A third person questioned why it's okay to spend money on a veto session to target members of the LGBTQ+ community but not to redraw congressional districts.
No word on when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will make its ruling.
ORIGINAL STORY, MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2022:
Louisiana legislators learned in the waning hours of the 2022 regular session that they will soon have to return to the Capitol to redraw the state's congressional districts.
A Baton Rouge federal judge has invalidated the Congressional maps approved in March by state legislators and vetoed by Governor John Bel Edwards. Lawmakers subsequently overrode that veto in a rare rebuke of the governor's power.
The two maps approved by the legislature, authored by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder and Senator Sharon Hewitt, both Republicans, maintained the status quo of one minority-majority congressional district out of six despite 2020 census data showing that one-third of Louisiana's population is not white. Governor Edwards argued that lawmakers should have taken this into account when drawing the new map.
"This map is simply not fair to the people of Louisiana and does not meet the standards set forth in the federal Voting Rights Act," Edwards said in his veto message. "The Legislature should immediately begin the work of drawing a map that ensures Black voices can be properly heard in the voting booth. It can be done and it should be done."
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People both sued the state government immediately after the legislature overrode Edwards's veto. Judge Shelley Dick of the United States Court for the Middle District of Louisiana ruled that the plaintiffs "are substantially likely to suffer irreparable harm."
"The appropriate remedy in this context is a remedial congressional redistricting plan that includes an additional majority-Black congressional district," Judge Dick wrote in her opinion. "The United States Supreme Court instructs that the Legislature should have the first opportunity to draw that plan. Therefore, the Court ORDERS the Louisiana Legislature to enact a remedial plan on or before June 20, 2022. If the Legislature is unable to pass a remedial plan by that date, the Court will issue additional orders to enact a remedial plan compliant with the laws and Constitution of the United States."
In March, Sen. Hewitt told the Louisiana Radio Network that crafting a map with a second minority-majority district was impossible.
"You can only draw a second minority district if the minority lives in an area that's geographically compact and in of a sufficient number where they'd perform as a minority district," Senator Hewitt said. "We were just not able to physically able to draw a map with two minority districts that would perform as minority districts."
Judge Dick's ruling gives state lawmakers two weeks to redraw and approve a new Congressional map.
According to a Tweet from Attorney General Jeff Landry, the state will appeal Judge Dick's ruling.
However, LA-2 Rep. Troy Carter (D-New Orleans) is urging the legislature to approve one of the proposal introduced during the redistricting session that provided for a second minority-majority district.
No word on if or when legislative leaders will call a second redistricting session to create a map that confirms with Judge Dick's ruling.