Appeals court blocks hearings on drawing a second majority-Black congressional district in Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge’s plan to hold hearings next week to draw up congressional boundary lines giving Louisiana a second majority-Black district was blocked Thursday by a divided appeals court panel.

Supporters of establishing a second such district had hoped a recent Supreme Court ruling upholding a redrawn map in Alabama would soon result in similar results in Louisiana.

But in a 2-1 ruling, a panel of judges at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Baton Rouge-based U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick was moving too quickly and must give the state more time to consider a new map.

Dick had issued an injunction last year blocking a map that had been drawn up by the Legislature, saying it violated the Voting Rights Act. But the map was used in the 2022 elections after the Supreme Court put the Louisiana case on hold, pending the outcome of the Alabama case.

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Writing for the majority in Thursday’s appellate ruling, Judge Edith Jones said Dick had set an “impossibly short timetable” last year for lawmakers to draw new maps. Now, she said, “there is no warrant for the court’s rushed remedial hearing by the first week of October 2023, months in advance of deadlines for districting, candidate filing, and all the minutiae of the 2024 elections.”

Judge James Ho, nominated to the court by former President Donald Trump, concurred with Jones, a nominee of former President Ronald Reagan.

Judge Stephen Higginson, nominated by former President Barack Obama, dissented, noting that the issues has been before the courts for over a year.

Louisiana has six U.S. House districts. Five are currently represented by white Republicans and one by a Black Democrat.

The Legislature met last year to adjust congressional district boundaries to account for population shifts reflected in the last census.

The maps passed by the Republican-dominated body included only one mostly Black district and were passed over the objection of Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, who agreed with voting rights advocates who said a second majority-Black district is needed in a state where the population is roughly one-third Black.

Another panel of the 5th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments next week on the injunction Dick issued last year that blocked the use of the 2022 map.