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Lawsuit challenges constitutionality of Louisiana’s Senate, House redistricting maps

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By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – Louisiana voting and civil rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit against the Louisiana secretary of state, challenging the state House and Senate maps approved by the Legislature last month.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the Louisiana NAACP and several individual voters over alleged violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Section 2 prohibits discrimination in voting practices or procedures based on race, color or membership in a language minority group.

The plaintiffs cited 2020 census figures that showed Louisiana’s total Black voting age population increased by 7.22% over the past decade, while the white population decreased by 6.3%. Plaintiffs argued lawmakers did not sufficiently account for the shift when crafting new state House and Senate districts during the February special session.

When accounting for other minority groups, the voting age population of minorities in Louisiana comprises 42% of the population, while white voters represent about 58% of the voting age population. Legislative maps approved in February fail to reflect that reality, according to the lawsuit.

“The new maps maintain the discriminatory status quo,” the lawsuit reads. “Under the 2022 State Legislative Maps, white voters, who only comprise only 58% of the voting-age population, will control election outcomes in over 70% of the seats in the State Senate and State House of Representatives.”

The plaintiffs argued the Black population is sufficient enough to create six to nine additional House districts and three additional Senate districts that favor minority candidates.

“The Louisiana Legislature had the opportunity to ensure our district maps were constitutional, but instead they continued on the path that has led to decades of diluting Black voting power,” ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Alanah Odoms said. “Louisianans deserve better from our elected officials, but those representatives aren’t letting us have a choice, so once again, we’re fighting back in the courts to protect the rights for all. It is well past time for Louisiana to turn the page and allow all citizens to participate fully in our democracy.”

Legislative Republicans have argued spreading Black voters across more districts could water down the black voting age population to the point they would be unable to elect a candidate of their choice in any district.

The lawsuit was filed the same day Gov. John Bel Edwards addressed the Legislature on the first day of the 2022 regular session. In the governor’s final state of the state address, he discussed his disappointment with the Legislature’s failure to expand opportunities for minorities to elect a representative of their choice and voiced support for an independent redistricting commission for the future.

Edwards vetoed the congressional district map approved by the Legislature in February, but withheld his signature from the state House and Senate maps, effectively allowing them to become law without his support.

“You know, the Legislature undertook five separate redistricting efforts. A total of 163 districts. And across those five bills and 163 districts there’s not one net new majority Black district anywhere,” Edwards said.

ACLU Legal Defense Fund attorney Victoria Wenger contended the result is an attempt by the Legislature “to silence black Louisianans for another decade.”

“The numbers, geography, and people of Louisiana were clear throughout this entire redistricting process: additional majority-Black districts must be drawn for Louisiana’s legislative maps to comply with the Voting Rights Act,” she said. “Black voters cannot be forced to endure another decade of underrepresentation, which is why it’s so important that a court fix these discriminatory maps before another decade of harm is cemented.”

The lawsuit asked the court to declare the state legislative maps unconstitutional, prevent their use in elections, and to adopt new redistricting plans “that do not abridge or dilute the ability of black voters to elect candidates of choice.”

The plaintiffs argued that to comply with Section 2, the plans must include 14 minority majority state Senate districts and 35 to 39 House districts with a majority of Black voters.

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