Game, set, almost certainly soon to be match, and with some historic import thrown in.
Today, the Louisiana Legislature overrode a Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards veto of maps passed apportioning the state for the purpose of electing members to Congress. He had nixed two different bills of identical content creating one majority-minority district of six passed by the majority Republicans, opposed by Democrats who wanted two such districts made.
The vetoes weren’t surprising. As an ultra-loyal Democrat, Edwards had to do it in order to promote any chance that his party could pick up a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives over the next decade, as black voters traditionally have cast ballots for Democrats. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt with any legal challenges for there to dilute bipartisan resolution to the matter.
Even if, after passage, the chances of preventing an override were poor. The Senate with its GOP supermajority never was in doubt, and the House votes showed one Democrat, state Rep. Francis Thompson, consistently backing the Republican leaderships’ plans. That meant the GOP majority had to grab just one more vote, and independent state Rep. Malinda White and no party state Rep. Joe Marino had joined Thompson in that consistency.
For that reason, while initially a handful of Republicans had voted against the bills amid talk of disgruntlement over one thing or another, realistically when the chips were down GOP unity in favor would prevail as the initial dissenters wouldn’t give up a chance to enact their conceptually-favored plan. As it turned out on the bill that did come up for the override, HB 1 by Republican Speaker Clay Schexnayder, the majority held them all, plus the three non-members and also corralled independent state Rep. Roy Daryl Adams.
Going forward, one question is what Schexnayder had to deal, if anything, to grab these votes. That he got four when two were needed and who indicates not a whole lot sacrificed. Thompson in recent years has become a Democrat-in-Name-Only, and Marino already tends to the GOP with his district as it is. White recently abandoned Democrats, and her district in 2023 will be 68 percent white and 34 percent Republican so perhaps she received a pledge that the GOP wouldn’t look to replace her (but if a party candidate did emerge neither would it run interference for her). Adams unlikely got anything, as the mapping made his district less favorable for his reelection so his vote probably tries to attract future votes to hang on.
And one answer delivered by the event is how it steepened the curve on the continued declination of Edwards’ power and the policy implications that has. As fruitless as the veto session last summer seemed with every attempted reversal instead sustained, it greased the skids for future efforts like this. With a successful override, only the third in modern state history, it demonstrates increasingly that Edwards doesn’t have the continuum of rewards and punishments necessary to block a good bit of the Republican agenda, and the effect only will snowball.
This bodes well for bills this session such as fairness in women’s sports, concealed carry of handguns without permit, prevention of mutilation of children for ideological reasons, and blocking the grooming of children to question their sex. These likely will pass in the House with a smattering of non-Republican support, and from his reduced stature Edwards may not have enough persuasiveness to sustain vetoes of these he surely would like to cast. Yet the acid test will come with line-item vetoes; today’s override may embolden all legislators not only to cue up veto sessions in the future but then band together and negate swaths of line-item vetoes in bipartisan fashion, crippling Edwards further as well as constraining future governors by establishing this practice as the norm.
The override is game and set but not quite yet match as Democrats signaled the inevitable court challenge to come through their rhetoric in opposing. Just a few did and showed they knew what was coming, resigned in their floor speeches to invoking neo-racism in the guise of anti-racism, all but calling the map racist because it equated non-racism with, and only with, the number M/M districts being proportional to the black population’s portion of the state’s – a view running entirely against decades of constitutional jurisprudence (a fact which doesn’t change despite their falsely calling any maps drawn any other way as unconstitutional) that recognize race as just one of several factors constitutionally permitted in reapportionment, and refusing to admit that the map in question comported to that.
(A side issue that also may spark a challenge from desperate Democrats is the ambiguity surrounding how a veto session can coexist with another session, as this one did. If one comes about, likely it will go nowhere as the judiciary generally gives great latitude to the majoritarian branches to conduct their affairs in the face of constitutional vagueness.)
Of course, because they had to try to supplement the coming case through their rhetoric. Which, unless the U.S. Supreme Court makes a major an unanticipated reversal in a case or combination of them (which could include the coming case from Louisiana) later this year, will fail. With the political stakes so high – all the talk about the Constitution papers over the fact that legislative Democrats primarily fought this as a power play to boost their national numbers – they had to flail away to keep the hope alive that their microscopic chances for success somehow will pay off.
The suit will come, but it will change nothing. And Louisiana’s reasonable and fair congressional map is set for the next decade, Edwards suffers a stinging defeat, Republicans take one step closer to acting like a majority party with a record to prove it, and the dynamics of the state’s majoritarian political institutions continue to evolve away from an executive-dominated past.