An appeals court sets a January deadline for a new Louisiana congressional map

A person walks in front of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in 2015.

Jonathan Bachman/AP

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Jonathan Bachman/AP

A person walks in front of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in 2015.

Jonathan Bachman/AP

A federal appeals court has given the Louisiana legislature until Jan. 15, 2024, to draw a new congressional map after concluding a lower court correctly ruled that the previous map likely violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of the state’s Black voters.

It’s the latest legal development in a long-running redistricting fight that could help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives after next year’s elections.

The new order by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, released Friday, tosses out a 2022 ruling by a lower court, which the panel noted was “issued with the urgency of establishing a map for the 2022 elections” and is “no longer necessary.”

Still, the panel found that the lower court “did not clearly err in its necessary fact-findings nor commit legal error” in finding the map approved by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature to be a likely violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Out of that map’s six congressional districts, there is only one where Black Louisianans — who make up close to a third of the state’s population — have a realistic opportunity to elect their preferred candidate. That candidate would likely be a Democrat because of how racially polarized voting is in the southern state.

The appeals court panel’s ruling notes that if the state legislature does not pass a new map by mid-January, the lower court should move ahead to a trial in order to finalize a map in time for the 2024 elections.

The U.S. Supreme Court was recently asked to review a separate 5th Circuit panel’s ruling that canceled a hearing about redrawing the map. The court denied an emergency request to revive that hearing and speed up the redrawing process.

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This case is one of several in the South where Republican state officials are trying to argue that the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2 is no longer constitutional. Section 2 is a key remaining part of the landmark law after Supreme Court rulings weakened many of its provisions over the past decade. The effort against Section 2 is trying to push federal courts to reinterpret long-standing legal protections against racial discrimination in redistricting.

In a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama, however, the Supreme Court ruled in June to uphold its past rulings on Section 2 and allowed a lower court to put in place a map with two opportunity districts for Black voters.

Edited by Benjamin Swasey

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