The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Supreme Court frees Louisiana to use congressional map drawn by GOP

A federal judge had directed the state legislature to create an additional district more favorable to Black voters

A woman presents her identification to vote in New Orleans. (Gerald Herbert/AP)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared Louisiana to use this fall a Republican-drawn congressional map that a federal district judge said likely diminishes the electoral power of the state’s Black voters.

The justices agreed with a request by the state’s Republican secretary of state to put on hold U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s order that the state create a second district where African Americans would have the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. An appeals court backed the district court’s decision, but the state legislature refused to redraw the map.

The Supreme Court majority on Tuesday did not supply a reason for granting the state’s request, as is common in emergency orders. But it noted the court has accepted for the term that begins in October a case from Alabama that raises similar questions about a state’s obligation to create what can be known as majority-minority districts under the Voting Rights Act.

Supreme Court says Alabama does not have to create new majority-minority congressional district

The court’s three liberal justices — Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — said they would have denied the state’s request. That would have meant new districts before the fall elections.

Louisiana has six members of Congress. But only one of the districts is majority-Black, even though African-Americans make up about one-third of the state’s voters. The state’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, vetoed the map, but its Republican-led legislature overrode the action.

In a separate case in February, the Supreme Court stopped a lower court’s order that Alabama redraw its congressional map to accommodate the growth of Black voters there. It called for a second district favorable to Black candidates.

Supreme Court says federal courts don’t have a role in deciding partisan gerrymandering claims

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who was in the majority in blocking the lower court order, said the map drawn by the legislature should remain in place, and that the court take the case to decide the merits of the dispute. It involves what Republicans say is a conflict between the demands of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that race not play too prominent a role in government decisions.

“The underlying question here is whether a second majority-minority congressional district (out of seven total districts in Alabama) is required by the Voting Rights Act and not prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause,” Kavanaugh wrote. “But the Court’s case law in this area is notoriously unclear and confusing.”

The Alabama case, Merrill v. Milligan, is one of the first the court will consider in October. Tuesday’s order said the Louisiana case would be held until the Alabama case is decided.

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