Appeals court clears way for Louisiana Special Session to draw new congressional map

Greg Hilburn
Lafayette Daily Advertiser
Louisiana Capitol, Dec. 13, 2021

A federal appeals court has lifted its administrative stay blocking an order from a judge for the Louisiana Legislature to draw a new Congressional map with a second Black district, clearing the way for a special legislative session to begin Wednesday.

Last week the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals temporarily blocked U.S. Middle District Judge Shelly Dick's June 6 ruling ordering the Legislature to redraw the map and add a second Black district by June 20 or have the court draw its own map "compliant with the laws and Constitution of the United States."

But on Sunday the court denied Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry's motion for a permanent stay while Dick's decision is being appealed.

The appeals court emphasized its Sunday ruling isn't on the merits of the case. Another three-judge 5th Circuit panel will move forward a review of the merits of the lawsuit filed by civil rights groups to block the new map.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards tweeted Sunday that the Special Session will move forward.

"There is time for the legislature to return to the Capitol and enact congressional maps that reflect the reality of our state," Edwards said in his tweet. "It is the right thing to do, and it is what we are compelled to do in accordance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."

Louisiana's Legislature passed the new map during a Special Session in February.

More:Appeals court blocks order for Louisiana to draw new congressional map, add Black district

Edwards vetoed the map, saying it was unfair and unconstitutional because lawmakers kept one majority-Black seat even as the Black population had increased to about one-third of Louisiana's population during the past decade.

But Republicans secured the two-thirds votes needed in both the House (72-31) and Senate (27-11) to override Edwards' veto on March 30.

Qualifying for Louisiana's Nov. 8 congressional election is set for July 20-22 for now.

The Louisiana House and Senate Governmental Affairs Committees crafted the congressional map.

Republican Crowley Rep. John Stefanski and Republican Slidell Sen. Sharon Hewitt, who chair the respective committees, told USA Today Network they believe the map is fair and will ultimately be affirmed in the courts.

"We have to just wait and see the appeals process through," Stefanski said.

Read this:Appeals court blocks order for Louisiana to draw new congressional map, add Black district

"I'm still confident in the map as it was drawn and I'm looking forward to see how it plays out in court," Hewitt said last week.

Louisiana's new six-district Congressional map kept a similar configuration to the previous one with a single majority-Black district based in New Orleans and part of Baton Rouge represented by Democratic Congressman Troy Carter of New Orleans.

Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales and Republican Senate President Page Cortez of Lafayette had asked the governor to rescind his special session call last week, calling it "premature."

USA Today Network is seeking comment from Schexnayder and Cortez.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Sam Jenkins of Shreveport said he's ready for the Legislature to go back to the drawing board.

"I am pleased to see that the court of appeals is allowing this case to move forward on the merits," said Jenkins, who is Black. "I am disappointed that in this age of the new millennium, the federal courts still must consider if Louisiana is complying with the Voting Rights Act."

Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.