Black voters and NAACP sue Louisiana Senate and House district maps

Four black residents and two civil rights organizations filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block new political maps for the Louisiana House and Senate from taking effect.

The plaintiffs allege that the new Louisiana Legislature maps, which are supposed to be used in the 2023 election, do not include enough majority black districts and violate federal voting rights law.

They’re asking the court to throw out the approved maps and set a “reasonable time” for the state government to come up with new ones. If the state fails to meet that deadline, the plaintiffs have asked the court to adopt maps that include three black-majority Senate seats and six to nine more Black House seats than those found on current maps.

“Despite representing nearly one-third of Louisiana’s voting-age population, black voters have long been denied an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates,” the lawsuit states.

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Plaintiffs include Dorothy Nairne of Assumption Parish, Jarrett Lofton of Caddo Parish, Clee Earnest, Alice Washington of East Baton Rouge Parish, the Louisiana State Conference of NAACP, and the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute.

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, the state’s top election official, is the sole defendant in the case.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP provide plaintiff attorneys. They filed the lawsuit in Baton Rouge in the U.S. District Court for the Intermediate District of Louisiana.

The Louisiana Legislature approved the new political maps from its own chambers in February. Gov. John Bel Edwards disapproves of the plans – he thought they should contain more majority black districts – but refused to veto them. They became law on March 9.

The new maps maintain the status quo of majority black districts in the Senate and House, although Louisiana’s black population has increased since the state’s last redistricting session. Eleven of the 39 Senate districts and 29 of the 105 House districts were black majority seats when they were drawn 10 years ago and remain so in plans approved by the Legislative Assembly.

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The plaintiffs argue that the state is legally obligated to do more. They are pushing for maps with 14 majority-black Senate precincts and 35-39 majority-black seats in the House. White voters, who make up 58% of the voting population, would control election results for more than 70% of seats in the Louisiana Senate and House according to maps approved by the Legislative Assembly, according to the lawsuit.

Legislative leaders said they had not yet had a chance to read the lawsuit and did not want to comment on it until they did.

The plaintiffs set out to prove that elections in Louisiana are racially polarized, a key standard they may have to meet to win a suffrage challenge. Black voters vote overwhelmingly for candidates who often don’t win elections in majority white ridings, they said.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs described the racial breakdown of Louisiana’s recent state treasurer and secretary of elections to prove their point. In both elections, more than 95% of black residents who voted backed black candidates who ended up losing.

They also pointed to previous cycles of political redistricting when the federal government forced Louisiana to redraw its political lines due to concerns about minority representation. In 1981 and 1991, Louisiana had to make adjustments to add majority black districts to the Legislative Assembly to satisfy federal laws. In 1969 and 1994, they had to do the same for judicial seats, according to the lawsuit.

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The plaintiffs said additional majority black districts could be added this year by “unpacking” existing majority black districts where the percentage of black voters is so high it could be lowered significantly without threatening majority status. black from the districts.

A new black-majority seat in Jefferson Parish could be drawn by moving some black voters from Senate District 5, represented by black Democrat Karen Carter Peterson, to Senate District 8, represented by white Republican Patrick Connick .

Another black-majority district could be added in the Shreveport area by moving black voters from Senate District 39, represented by black Democrat Greg Tarver, and Senate District 37, represented by white Republican Barrow Peacock.

In the Baton Rouge area, some Black voters could be moved out of Senate Districts 14 and 15, represented by Black Democrats Regina Barrow and Cleo Fields, and into Senate District 17, represented by White Republican Rick Ward, to create another predominantly black seat. .

On the House side, the plaintiffs said an additional black majority seat could be added in the Lake Charles area by moving some black voters from House District 34, held by black Democrat Wilford Carter, and in District 38 of the house, held by whites. Republican Rhonda Butler.

Louisiana legislators meet in the House of Representatives.

The plaintiffs also proposed keeping the majority black District 23, held by black Democrat Kenny Cox, in northwest Louisiana. In the House map approved by the Legislature, this neighborhood was moved to New Orleans.

Instead, the plaintiffs would convert District 5 of Shreveport, held by white Republican Alan Seabaugh, into a new majority black district in New Orleans. It would also move around the black population of Shreveport to create another minority home neighborhood in Caddo Parish.

In Baton Rouge, plaintiffs have proposed moving some black voters out of House Districts 29, 61 and 63 — held by black Democrats Edmond Jordan, C. Denise Marcelle, Barbara Carpenter — to create more majority black districts. The black population of House District 101, which is vacant, could also be reduced.

These additional black voters could be placed in Baton Rouge area districts 60, 65, 68 and 69 – represented by white Democrat Chad Brown and white Republicans Barry Ivey, Scott McKnight and Paula Davis – to create new seats in black majority.

Black lawmakers have offered more modest proposals than those put forward by the plaintiffs during Louisiana’s political redistricting in February. Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, wanted to add two more black-majority Senate seats. Representatives Sam Jenkins and Cedric Glover, both of Shreveport, have proposed adding an additional black-majority seat to the House through several proposals. Their plans were scuttled by the Republican majority.

– The Louisiana Illuminator is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization driven by its mission to shed light on how decisions are made in Baton Rouge and how they affect the lives of everyday Louisianans , especially those who are poor or otherwise marginalized.

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