Non-black voters urge Supreme Court to reject Louisiana map

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A group of non-black voters urged the Supreme Court on May 13 to reject a Louisiana redistricting plan that creates two black-majority districts in the state, arguing the congressional electoral map is racially discriminatory.

However the Supreme Court eventually rules in the dispute, the decision will have nationwide political ramifications given Republicans’ wafer-thin majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Louisiana is home to Speaker Mike Johnson and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, both Republicans.

Louisiana has six electoral districts in the U.S. House of Representatives. Five of those six seats are now held by Republicans. Republicans occupy both U.S. Senate seats.

The dispute grows out of a redistricting plan approved by the Republican-controlled Louisiana State Legislature that was halted by Judge Shelly Dick of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Judge Dick, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ruled in June 2022 that the map, which provided for one black-majority congressional district in the state, discriminated against black voters who comprise nearly one-third of the state’s population.

The judge ordered the creation of a second black-majority district to comply with Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in a large language minority group.

In November 2023, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit directed the legislature to approve a new map by Jan. 15, 2024. The circuit court ruled if the legislature missed the deadline, the district court would be free to move forward with a trial in an effort to finalize the map before the 2024 elections.

The new legislature-approved map featuring two black-majority districts was criticized by a group of Louisiana voters who described themselves as “non-African American.” They said the map “engaged in explicit, racial segregation of voters.”

Then a panel of judges in the Western District of Louisiana agreed in a 2-1 vote with the non-black voters that the electoral map was constitutionally suspect and ruled it could not be used because it discriminated against non-black voters.

That court set a June 3 deadline for the map to be revised by the legislature or the court would draft its own map. The state asked that court to stay its injunction pending appeal but it refused to do so.

Attorneys for the state filed an emergency application in the case of Landry v. Callais with the nation’s highest court on May 10 asking it to put the panel’s ruling on hold.

‘Election Chaos’

Louisiana officials say the panel overstepped its authority and that if the map is not restored there will be “election chaos.” The state asked the Supreme Court to act not later than May 15, reasoning that officials must adhere to a strict schedule to administer this year’s elections.

The state invoked the so-called Purcell principle, which holds that federal district courts ordinarily should not enjoin state election laws close to an election.

“‘Late judicial tinkering’ is a recipe for disaster,” and in cases like this the party seeking the electoral change bears an especially heavy burden to “overcome the State’s extraordinarily strong interest in avoiding late, judicially imposed changes to its election laws and procedures,” the application states.

The district court panel’s current injunction and planned overhaul of Louisiana’s congressional map is not “feasible without significant cost, confusion, or hardship[.]”

Justice Samuel Alito had directed the non-black voters to file an answer to the emergency application not later than 11 a.m. on May 13.

The voters were responding to the emergency application in Landry v. Callais and the emergency application in Robinson v. Callais, both of which were directed to Justice Alito.

Justice Alito may rule on the applications himself or he may refer them to the full court. The applicants, who favor the map containing two black-majority districts, are black voters and Nancy Landry, Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state.

The respondents, who oppose the map, are non-black voters, led by voter Phillip Callais.

The legislature-approved map from January of this year “imposed a brutal racial gerrymander … solely to concoct a second black-majority district,” states the Callais response, which weighs in at 1,634 pages.

The new district, a “jagged, narrow 250-mile scar nearly slices the district of House Speaker Mike Johnson in half.

“Holding most of the land and 82% of the Black population from [a previous] district, this demographic barbell links Black-majority precincts in Baton Rouge and Shreveport, almost to the Texas border. In the narrow intervening space, it weaves with surgical efficiency to encircle pockets of Black voters and exclude whites and other races.”

And despite all the effort made to create a black-majority district, the new district has only a 54 percent black voting-age population, which doesn’t actually comply with the Voting Rights Act.

“Direct evidence from the legislative record confirms what the naked eye and statistical analysis proves: the overwhelming factor driving District 6 was race,” the brief states.

SB8, the state law that created the map with two black-majority districts, is “morally repugnant. It’s not a close call.”

The district court panel should be allowed to finish its work on the equal-protection and Voting Rights Act arguments raised and rule on the redistricting plan, the non-black voters argue.

Despite the state’s “oddly shrill and last-minute warnings of chaos,” this leaves ample time before the November elections, the brief states.

South Carolina Case

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is deliberating a challenge to the electoral map in South Carolina, Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, which was argued on Oct. 11, 2023.

Republican state lawmakers told the Supreme Court it should overturn a ruling that the South Carolina legislature racially gerrymandered a congressional district because lawmakers used political, not racial, data to justify the redrawn map.

Although the Supreme Court frowns on racial gerrymanders, treating them as constitutionally suspect, it has adopted a hands-off attitude toward partisan gerrymanders.

The congressional seat at issue is currently held by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Republicans outnumber Democrats in the state’s delegation to the U.S. House by six to one. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are Republicans.

A decision in the case is expected by the end of June, though it could come sooner.

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared May 13, 2024, in The Epoch Times.

Photo: Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito