SADOW: No, The Lawsuits Over Legislative Maps Won’t Change Anything

The springing of the expected power play won’t change a thing for Louisiana House and Senate election districts enacted for 2023 elections, and likely for the remainder of the decade.

With the decision by Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards not to veto special session bills that reapportioned each chamber, this triggered special interests to sue over maps that barely added any majority-minority districts over what exists currently demographically. With an increase in black population statewide to about a third and with the proportion of M/M districts in the upcoming maps in each chamber below 30 percent, the suit alleges this violates the law and calls for injunctive relief in the form of forcing new plans from the Legislature, and if that doesn’t suit them quickly enough then to use the judiciary to write plans to their liking that would add several new M/M districts to each chamber.

The thin case on which this resides asks the federal judiciary to disregard current jurisprudence on redistricting, contrary to the one-sided arguments the plaintiffs make. The sleight of hand they demand, which would represent a sea change in constitutional doctrine on the matter, gives race primacy over all factors in reapportionment where a cohesive minority exists, to the point that courts would define adequate minority representation as roughly the same proportion of M/M districts as that minority population living in the jurisdiction, dismissing all other valuable factors such as maintaining community of interests and compactness that the federal judiciary for decades have backed as inputs to drawing districts.

Making this desired end point even less likely to surface from a judicial chain of decisions is the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last month to stay a similar request in Alabama over congressional districts, signaling it believed the question too important hasty consideration. In essence, the Court said it would take up the matter next term that would decide just how important race was as a factor relative to all others in reapportionment, a ruling which largely brought disappointment from the political left.

As a practical matter, unless the Court acted with unusual dispatch, a decision on this case won’t come until the summer of 2023. With cases having potentially a large impact, the Court typically holds off on announcing a decision until the very end of its term, or even may hold these over. And even if the Court did strike down the Alabama plan then, the standard it would create that would have to give race at least some primacy over all other factors may not give it sufficient salience to declare any Louisiana maps challenged unconstitutional, as on its face the Alabama congressional plan doesn’t do as adequate a job as Louisiana’s plan, vetoed by Edwards but awaiting an override or passage in similar form prior to the end of the regular session to end in early June, on criteria such as keeping communities of interest together and compactness.

Regardless of that outcome insofar as it pertains to the legislative maps, the definitive outcome of the February decision not to grant injunctive relief in Alabama reinforced the Purcell principle that disruptive changes in elections parameters too close to an election would not be permitted. Continued application of this ensures Louisiana legislative elections in 2023 will come off under the enacted maps.

Since state map challenges (except where state law or its constitution sets out parameters of reapportionment, which Louisiana’s doesn’t) and any federal ones along the lines of Alabama’s (and, if one comes, Louisiana’s) as well essentially will come to a halt until the Court decides on reapportionment criteria’s importance, and the Court likely won’t decide on that until less than a month prior to commencement of qualification for 2023 legislative elections, the federal judiciary won’t intervene even under the unlikely scenario that the Louisiana plaintiffs might win under any remade Court criteria. Thus, despite the suit 2023 elections will occur under the recently-enacted maps.

And, again, likely in 2027 as well barring an unforeseen and radical shift in judicial philosophy. The special interests bringing these suits know that but have to try, because their real interest in this lies in gaining political power: maps redrawn to their liking by fiat almost certainly elect more leftist Democrats to office that they hope can prevent the likely Republican supermajorities that would form in both chambers resulting otherwise from the 2023 election, along with a GOP governor, from inflicting major and permanent defeats to their agenda. Make no mistake, it’s all about power with them, and thus their desperation heave.

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