Louisiana House Democrats, in particular the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus members of that chamber, seem willing to look a gift horse in the mouth apparently longing for a bigger, if unlikely, payoff in the future with respect to redistricting.
SB 163 by Republican state Sen. Patrick McMath would have added two state Supreme Court seats, bringing the total to nine. While this constitutional amendment, which would have taken effect in 2025 with voter approval in 2022, doesn’t set out the actual districting, its standard that districts be roughly equiproportional would mean the creation of two majority-minority districts, where just one exists at present.
Democrats, particularly blacks of the party, have carped about just the one, and this bill would have delivered a likely two of nine. Better still, Republicans magnanimously offered it up, despite the fact that no constitutional jurisprudence would force the state to draw districts in this fashion.
There does exist hanging out there the Chisom v. Roemer consent decree, where Louisiana voluntarily conceded that it would, and then did, create districts that tried to reflect racial demographics. Another case in its early stages currently in a Middle District court attempts to read this gesture into the Constitution, but the run of jurisprudential play suggests this is a long shot. This amendment succeeding essentially would end both cases.
Apparently, that’s not good enough for House Democrats, despite the fact with that amendment in place that Republicans basically allow the proportion of competitive seats for them to fall from better than 83 percent to under 78 percent. While in two votes all Senate Democrats signed on to the measure, in the House all but state Rep. Mack Cormier have opposed it on multiple votes.
Despite that, the bill potentially could have passed. In the last vote (a procedural motion), with no party state Rep. Joe Marino joining in the affirmative as well, if all Republicans had voted for it, it would have achieved the 70 votes necessary which if replicated on the vote for passage would have been just enough. But Republican state Reps. Timothy Kerner, Vinney St. Blanc, and Joe Stagni didn’t vote, which under the rules counts as a negative.
Bill proponents may have another go at it during the inevitable reapportionment special session to occur later this year, or even in next year’s regular session, to make the 2022 election deadline. This allows for 2024 elections to create the expansion without disrupting the present election calendar.
The precedent that litigators hope to use forcing the Legislature to draw lines in a way that creates majority-minority districts that increase the proportion of such districts beyond that in SB 163 is 35 years old and, given its current composition, the U.S. Supreme Court probably would not expand on that to produce a victory on that account. Bill opponents must believe otherwise.