NewsCovering Louisiana


Louisiana must re-draw legislative districts, judge rules

Louisiana State Capitol
Posted at 6:26 PM, Feb 08, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-09 10:05:43-05

Just weeks after state Senators and Representatives met in special session to re-draw Congressional districts to comply with the voting rights of Black citizens, a federal judge has ruled that their own districts must be redrawn, as well.

U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick ruled Thursday on evidence presented during a seven-day trial back in November. After the trial, both sides - the state of Louisiana and the plaintiffs, which included several citizens and groups like the state NAACP - filed briefs laying out their arguments for the judge.

After considering the evidence and the arguments, Dick ruled in a 91-page opinion that the plaintiffs met their burden of proof that the state House and Senate districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act. She orders that any elections scheduled under the current district maps are halted and the state is given "a reasonable period of time" to address her rulings and re-draw the maps.

Our media partners at The Advocate posted a story with all the background on this issue; to read their story about it click here.

In her Thursday ruling, Dick writes she determined that, between 2000 and 2020, "Louisiana experienced significant population change, notably an increase in its Black population, and simultaneously a decrease in white population, particularly in the New Orleans-Metairie" area.

She ruled that the Senate contains districts in which the Black population is "unnecessarily concentrated" and "unjustifiably fragmented," and noted that she found "similar examples of packed and cracked districts" in the House.

She noted a similar finding in the Baton Rouge area, with a growth in Black population there between 2000 and 2020. That means the voting districts should reflect that, but they don't. Black voting "is diluted in this region because of cracking and packing," in other words Black population is greatly concentrated in some districts and unnecessarily diluted in others.

"As such, the Court finds the Black population is "sufficiently large" in Louisiana such that the Black population can comprise 50 percent or more of the population for many house and senate districts," she wrote.

The judge found problems with some of the state's experts; stating one's theory was "fundamentally flawed and completely useless" for the purpose it was presented, and notes that another "crunches a great deal of data to come to the unremarkable conclusion" that Black voting age people are concentrated in urban areas and white voting age people are concentrated in rural areas.

The ruling also addresses "historical context," noting that for more than 40 years "Louisiana's courts have recognized the state's history of official discrimination." One expert historian testified "the sordid history of Louisiana's discriminatory practices, including disenfranchisement of Black voters through poll taxes, property ownership requirements and literacy tests that were first implemented before Black Louisianians had the right to vote."

But those efforts weren't that successful in discouraging Louisiana's "resilient" Black voters, and so in response Louisiana "implemented increasingly burdensome restrictions which suppressed the Black vote" at the end of the 19th century; when the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, only about one-third of Black Louisianians had registered to vote.

But the Voting Rights Act didn't stop Louisiana's efforts to block her Black citizens from voting. Between 1965 and 1999, the U.S. Attorney General objected 66 times to Louisiana voting changes. Between 1982 and 2003, there were 13 instances of parishes resubmitting district plans that already had been objected to, the judge wrote.

She also cited testimony that looked at how race impacts candidates and elections, including "multiple instances of subtle and overt racial appeals in political advertising in recent elections," specifically citing messaging by U.S. Senator John Kennedy.

The judge wrote that "it is undisputed that Black Louisianians are underrepresented in public office," noting that no Black person has been elected governor since Reconstruction, that no Black person has ever been elected U.S. Senator, and that only four Black people have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives - and only from majority Black districts. That persists into the state legislature and local governments, she wrote, noting that while one third of the state is Black, only one-quarter of the house and senate seats are held by Black people. That holds in state courts, the BESE board and the state Supreme Court, she added.