Jun 29, 2011 5:50 AM by Lauren Wilson & AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The remapping of the Louisiana Senate's 39 districts received federal clearance Tuesday, paving the way for use of the redesigned seats in the fall election along with the 105 House districts that already had won approval.
The Department of Justice announced the decision in a letter sent to Senate President Joel Chaisson, which was released to The Associated Press.
Louisiana's election districts require approval from federal officials under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to ensure that they are free of discrimination against minorities.
"The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the specified change," wrote Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Perez noted in his letter, however, that Justice Department approval doesn't stop the possibility of lawsuits trying to block the new maps, which are slated to take effect with the Oct. 22 primary.
If the Senate districts had been rejected by federal officials, it would have meant lawmakers had to convene a special session to get the work done quickly before the September qualifying dates for the fall election cycle.
In a special redistricting session earlier this year, lawmakers redrew the state House, state Senate, congressional and utility regulatory districts to account for the population shifts shown in the 2010 census data.
The remapping of the 105 House districts received clearance from the Justice Department last week in a near-identical letter to what the Senate got. No word from federal officials has been received on redesign efforts beyond the state legislative seats.
The Senate redesign includes 11 minority districts in the 39-member chamber, up from 10 now.
The redrawn map pits two New Orleans Democratic incumbents against each other in the fall election: Sens. J.P. Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis. New minority districts will be created in north Louisiana and along the Mississippi River in south Louisiana, and a district in which the incumbent is term-limited will be carved up to make the plan work.
Black caucus members voted in a near-bloc against the redistricting plans that received final passage, complaining they didn't include enough minority representation or were drawn in a way that didn't maximize minority voter participation in a state where a third of residents are black.
The House increased the number of its majority black districts from 27 to 29 in its redesigned map. Both chambers upheld the longstanding tradition of not meddling in each other's district reshaping.