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Louisiana lawmakers have until Jan. 15 to enact new congressional map, court says

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The Louisiana Legislature has until Jan. 15 to enact a new congressional map after a lower court last year ruled that the current political boundaries dilute the power of the state’s Black voters, a federal New Orleans appeals court said Friday.

However, whether current Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards will call a special session to redraw the political boundaries and if Republican Gov.-elect Jeff Landry, who will be inaugurated Jan. 8, will have enough time to call a special redistricting session and meet the court’s deadline has yet to be determined.

If the Legislature does not pass a new map by mid-January, then the lower district court should conduct a trial and “decide on a plan for the 2024 elections,” according to the order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth District.

The political tug-of-war and legal battle over Louisiana’s GOP-drawn congressional map has been going on for more than a year and a half — which has included Edwards vetoing the political boundaries and the Legislature overriding his veto, the first time in nearly three decades that lawmakers refused to accept a governor’s refusal of a bill they had passed.

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Louisiana is among states still wrangling over congressional districts after the U.S. Supreme Court in June ruled that Alabama had violated the Voting Rights Act.

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Louisiana’s current map, which was used in the November congressional election, has white majorities in five of six districts — despite Black people accounting for one-third of the state’s population.

Republicans, who dominate Louisiana’s Legislature, say that the map is fair. They argue that Black populations in the state are too dispersed to be united into a second majority Black district.

Democrats argue that the map discriminates against Black voters and that there should be two majority-minority districts. Currently, five of the six districts are held by Republicans. Another mostly Black district could deliver a second congressional seat to Democrats.

In June 2022, a lower court struck down Louisiana’s map for violating the Voting Rights Act. U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick said in her ruling that “evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of Plaintiffs.” Dick ordered that the map be redrawn to include a second majority-Black district, before it was appealed to the 5th Circuit.

In October, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal from Black voters in Louisiana to speed the process of drawing new congressional districts in the state.

Lawmakers now have until mid-January to draw and pass a new map, which would have to be done through a special session.

A special session may be called by the governor or convened by the presiding officers of both chambers, upon a written petition of most elected members of the House and Senate.

While Edwards has not said whether he will call a special session, he remains adamant that a second majority-Black district is necessary to accurately represent the state.

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“This is about simple math, basic fairness, and the rule of law,” Edwards said in a written statement.

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, the state’s sole Black and Democratic member of Congress, said he “sincerely” hopes the Legislature will draw a new map with a second majority-Black district. Carter posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, to urge lawmakers to “do the right thing” and that “there is no need to wait for a court to force compliance with clear law.”

If Gov.-elect Landry calls a special session, the timing will be tricky — as Landry won’t be inaugurated until Jan. 8 and the session couldn’t start until seven days after the proclamation is issued, meaning the earliest lawmakers could return to the Capitol is the Jan. 15 deadline. Landry could not be reached for comment.

However, in the appeals court’s order it does say that the district court will have discretion to grant “limited additional time” if requested.