Louisiana’s Republican-run legislature approved a new congressional map pushed by GOP Gov. Jeff Landry on Friday, all but assuring Landry will sign it. The new plan creates a second Black-majority district as directed by a federal court, but even though its design could make it vulnerable to further legal challenges, none appear forthcoming.
The redrawn 6th District would stretch from Shreveport in the northwestern corner of the state to the capitol of Baton Rouge some 250 miles away, taking in heavily African American areas along its route and in the cities at either end. The new district would have voted for Joe Biden by a 59-39 margin, according to Dave’s Redistricting App, making it all but impossible for Republican Rep. Garret Graves to win reelection. It would, however, would open the door for a Black Democrat.
But Landry’s zeal to target Graves, who helped recruit a rival Republican candidate in last year’s race for governor, could theoretically expose mapmakers to charges that they engaged in racial gerrymandering—in other words, that they relied too much on race when drawing the new 6th. That would render the district invalid for violating the Constitution, according to Supreme Court precedent.
A previous district that closely resembled the 6th met just such a fate three decades ago, when the state (then dominated by conservative Democrats) last attempted to draw a second majority-Black district. Following the 1992 elections, federal courts struck down the sprawling, Z-shaped 4th District, saying it was “so irrational on its face that it can be understood only as an effort to segregate voters into separate voting districts because of their race.”
Lawmakers instead revamped it to resemble something of a backlash that looked a lot like the map the legislature passed on Friday. It, too, ran from Shreveport to Baton Rouge, and, according to an analysis from Daily Kos Elections, 52% of residents of the new 6th District live within the boundaries of that long-ago 4th.
But in court, the backslash fared the same as the Z did, getting struck down as another illegal racial gerrymander. That prompted the state to give up after the 1994 midterms and restore the 4th to its earlier, majority-white status. In turn, the man who’d won both Black-majority versions of the district, Democrat Cleo Fields, decided to retire rather than run a hopeless campaign for reelection on conservative turf.
Fields, however, may now be eyeing a comeback. Despite their differing partisan affiliations, Fields and Landry are political allies, and the new map may have been crafted not only as punishment for Graves but as a reward for Fields.
The parties who challenged Louisiana’s previous map will have the chance to oppose the new map in court, though it’s not clear whether any will. According to the Louisiana Illuminator’s Piper Hutchinson, an NAACP lawyer representing one group of plaintiffs, Jared Evans, indicated his clients “will most likely accept the new map,” while attorney Marc Elias, whose firm is representing a second set of plaintiffs, called the map a “big victory.”
Challengers had previously advocated for a much more compact 5th District in the state’s northeastern corner that would also be home to a Black majority. Many powerful Republicans didn’t want to see such a district, however, because it would target GOP Rep. Julia Letlow, the only woman in the state’s congressional delegation.
Both sides are scheduled to appear in court for a trial beginning March 25, though based on the reactions from plaintiffs, a settlement seems possible if not likely. But if the new plan is nonetheless challenged and found lacking, it’s likely the court would impose a map, either one submitted by one of the parties or one of its own devising.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect reactions to the new map from plaintiffs. The headline has also been changed.