Supreme Court, for Now, Allows Louisiana Voting Map to Move Forward

The Supreme Court on Wednesday temporarily reinstated a congressional map in Louisiana that includes a second majority-Black district, increasing the likelihood that Democrats could gain a House seat from the state in the November election.

The move could be particularly significant in an election cycle in which the balance of power in the House is likely to be determined by a handful of races.

The order was unsigned, as is the Supreme Court’s custom in ruling on emergency applications. It came in response to a challenge to a lower-court decision that had blocked the map drawn by Louisiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature, deeming it a racial gerrymander.

The justices said that their decision would remain in effect pending an appeal or a ruling by the Supreme Court. The court’s three liberals said that they would have left the block in place. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan did not explain their reasoning, but Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a dissent, wrote that she believed the court had intervened too soon.

Although a majority of the justices appeared swayed by concerns about courts making changes to elections procedures close to an election, Justice Jackson wrote, she did not believe that was an issue in the case.

“There is little risk of voter confusion from a new map being imposed this far out from the November election,” she added. “In fact, we have often denied stays of redistricting orders issued as close or closer to an election.”

Justice Jackson wrote that the intense focus on the voting map was proper since “the question of how to elect representatives consistent with our shared commitment to racial equality is among the most consequential we face as a democracy.” But she said the question before the judges was “far more quotidian.”

That question, she wrote, was merely to decide when Louisiana needed a map in place for the coming election, and she pointed out that a lower federal court had determined that deadline to be early June.

The case has a long and tangled history, unfolding over more than two years of litigation and involving challenges by separate groups of voters, first under the Voting Rights Act, then under the Constitution.

In asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, Louisiana’s attorney general, Elizabeth B. Murrill, had urged the justices to act quickly.

The Louisiana secretary of state had set a deadline of May 15 to prepare for the 2024 elections, she wrote, adding that the lower-court ruling had left the state with “no congressional map.”

“Louisiana’s impossible situation in this redistricting cycle would be comical if it were not so serious,” Ms. Murrill wrote.

A group of voters, pointing to the Constitution’s equal protection clause, argued for the new map to be blocked. They contended that the map, approved by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature after it had been directed to redraw it, “imposed a brutal racial gerrymander” on millions of voters.

The new district was a “jagged, narrow, 250-mile scar” linking majority-Black precincts in Baton Rouge and Shreveport and weaving “with surgical efficiency to encircle pockets of Black voters and exclude whites and other races,” lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote in their brief.

Ms. Murrill and a group of Black voters welcomed the court’s decision, saying it would pave the way for a fair election.

“The hope of achieving a map with two districts where Black voters can finally have fair representation has been our North Star and guiding light for years now,” said Ashley Shelton, the president of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, who was among the plaintiffs who had asked the justices to reinstate the new map.

Lawyers for the group of voters who sought to block the new map expressed confidence that they would eventually prevail.

“The State of Louisiana enacted a brutal racial gerrymander that segregates its voters based on their race,” the lawyers, Edward Greim and Paul Hurd, said in a statement. “Louisiana politicians passed the law at the last minute, lost in court, and then cynically ran out the clock on a replacement map.”

The dispute is part of a broader fight over voting rights that has come before the Supreme Court.

The challenge in Louisiana began after the 2020 census showed an increase in the number of Black voters. The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature drew a new map that included only one majority-Black congressional district out of six seats, igniting a court battle.

In 2022, a federal judge barred the state from using that map, finding that it probably violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

A federal appeals court upheld that ruling last year after the Supreme Court, in a surprise decision, found that Alabama had diluted the power of Black voters in drawing its voting map. In January, Louisiana lawmakers began drafting a new map for the upcoming election and approved a version that added a second district with a majority of Black voters.

Under the new map, the second district links communities in Baton Rouge, the state’s capital, in the southeastern part of the state, with Shreveport, in the state’s northwest.

A group of Louisiana voters, known in court filings as the “Callais plaintiffs,” challenged the map, arguing that it was racially gerrymandered, violating the equal protection clause.

In late April, a panel of federal judges sided with that group of voters, temporarily blocking the state from using the new map.

Ms. Murrill, in the state’s brief to the Supreme Court, argued that the situation was untenable, leaving the state “hopelessly stuck in the middle.”

“This absurd situation is an affront to Louisiana, its voters and democracy itself,” she wrote. “The madness must end.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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