SADOW: Don’t Expect Big Changes From Reapportionment In Louisiana

Louisiana’s Legislature in a special session of three weeks’ maximum length embarks upon reapportionment next week, likely producing little change except perhaps with its judicial districts.

By the next set of elections, this fall, lawmakers intend to have redrawn boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, both legislative chambers, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Public Service Commission, and the State Supreme Court. Legislators have travelled the state the past few months soliciting input about how the new maps should look.

The most high-profile suggestions have come from a collection of politically far left interest groups, whose universal theme maintains that additional majority-minority districts that would end up favoring Democrats should come to fruition – one more for each of Congress and BESE, and several more for each chamber of the Legislature, on the basis that in overall state population the proportion of whites declined 2.9 percent to just over 60 percent while that of blacks rose 1.1 percent to about a third. However, the plans they champion run into constitutional problems because they use race as the dominant criterion to do this, which the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected where it allows race at most as one of several criteria that may be employed.

The legislative committees, which reflect the large Republican majorities in the chambers, in charge of the process already have signaled they will use other judicially-defined criteria, most prominently keeping communities of similar interests together as much as practicable, that likely won’t produce additional M/M districts for Congress or BESE. As a result, what boundaries result – one of six M/M districts for Congress, two of eight for BESE – won’t look much different from current maps.

For the Legislature, the resulting plans will add some M/M districts and because of population changes northern districts will expand south and thereby more districts will end up in the south. The Senate probably won’t look too much different, with a new M/M district in the New Orleans area perhaps the biggest change. The House will see more changes with maybe two to four new M/M districts drawn, in most if not all cases with majority white districts with Democrats representing them finding their districts substantially altered in the process.

While many Democrats hope against these outcomes – believing that Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards could threaten or use his veto power to prevent these since the GOP falls two votes short in the House of overriding this – ultimately Republicans win out because a failure to complete the process throws the matter into the hands of the Louisiana Supreme Court, where with its Republican majority it would be expected to favor GOP-drawn maps. Therefore, most likely the GOP legislative leadership may swing an extra legislative seat or two the Democrats’ way in exchange for their support on all plans.

PSC districts will look much the same without controversy. With only five districts and the racial distribution of the population as it stands, even the most blatant leftist gerrymander can’t produce more than its present one M/M seat.

Finally, look for the optional redrawing of Supreme Court districts to happen after a quarter-century hiatus. Because the courts technically aren’t representative policy-making organs (although their decisions often do affect policy), they aren’t required to have reasonably-close numbers of residents per district and thus don’t legally need reapportionment at this time, but Republicans may seek to even out district numbers that in the process creates a second M/M district perhaps in exchange for minimal new legislative M/M districts.

If they can’t get that kind of deal with Democrats, they hold the ace in the hole of simply doing nothing. Even though a suit was filed concerning the present districts, it would be a huge longshot if the federal judiciary ruled these were unconstitutional, so the GOP has all the leverage.

Given these dynamics, expect mostly boundary changes on existing maps except for a few new M/M districts in the Legislature, although perhaps as well substantially new Supreme Court districts depending on the direction of negotiations.

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