We’re Beginning To Lack Faith In Louisiana’s Legislature On Redistricting

Ever since the Fifth Circuit lifted its stay on Obama-appointed partisan Democrat federal judge Shelly Dick’s order that the Louisiana legislature redraw its congressional district map to add another safe Democrat seat at the expense of one of the state’s incumbent Republicans’ re-election odds, we’ve had a creeping feeling that the legislative leadership would find a way to screw things up.

There really shouldn’t be a way that this happens. It’s impossible to imagine that the Fifth Circuit will allow the kind of racial gerrymandering Dick demands in order to craft a second majority-black redistricting map. To make two black districts is to create a Rorschach test of the entire state’s congressional maps, and the current state of federal law requires compactness and commonality of interests within communities – not just racial bean-counting.

The map the Legislature drew that Dick invalidated is pretty close to the map the state has used for the last decade, and that map was constitutional. Population shifts have made for the necessity for the two North Louisiana districts to reach a bit to the south, but otherwise the map is more or less the same.

So ultimately, it’s a reasonably safe bet that the map will survive constitutional scrutiny once the Fifth Circuit has had its way with the case.

But that creeping feeling that this will go badly somehow just won’t go away. Particularly now that the special session Dick and Gov. John Bel Edwards demanded is beginning today and the House Speaker, Clay Schexnayder, and Senate President, Page Cortez, are already begging.

Louisiana’s legislative leaders are asking for at least 10 more days to comply with a federal judge’s order to redraw congressional districts so two have Black majorities. On Tuesday, the judge scheduled a hearing on that request, to be held Thursday.

Also Tuesday, a federal appeals court scheduled arguments July 8 about Judge Shelly Dick’s ruling that the current districts violate the Voting Rights Act.

The Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, have been fighting over the issue since February, when the legislature approved a congressional map with white majorities in five of six districts.

Edwards vetoed it, saying that because Louisiana’s population is nearly one-third Black, at least two districts should have African American majorities. The legislature overrode his veto.

Dick ordered legislators to create new districts, including two that are majority Black, by next Monday.

There’s no way to do that, Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a motion filed Monday.

The six-day session is scheduled to start Wednesday and end Monday. The legislators are asking for at least until June 30.

We’d heard they were going to just gavel in and gavel out of the session, which would be the smart thing to do. Let Shelly Dick and Edwards throw a fit over it, gum up the works and let this fall’s election be run on the old congressional map the majority of the state is perfectly happy with.

You do realize that the one black Democrat congressman in the delegation, Troy Carter, has nothing to say about this controversy, right? And you already know why, right?

Because any alteration of the map aimed at making two black districts is going to chisel off some of the black voters in Carter’s 2nd District, which will have to be replaced with white voters. The more that happens, the larger the possibility that Carter could lose re-election – more likely to a white Democrat than a Republican, but he doesn’t care. He wants to stay in office.

So everybody in the delegation is happy with having the current map or something that looks just like it.

And the cases coming down of recent vintage aren’t friendly to Dick’s ruling.

In this situation, the Legislature doesn’t need to be trying to please the Obama judge. Passing a new map, other than to make slight changes aimed at making the 5th Congressional District, the one currently represented by Julia Letlow, a bit more compact (which is very difficult to do), is a fool’s errand.

More important is to make sure the Legislature and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin have their legal ducks in a row. This is not a tough case to win at the Fifth Circuit, but the lifting of that stay doesn’t speak well of the current legal efforts to defend that map.

Yesterday Moon Griffon spent a great deal of his show on this topic and Griffon is livid. He’s throwing out the possibility that the legislative leadership has intentionally flubbed redistricting in order to satisfy some backroom deal with Edwards. We think that might be going a bit far, but the performance to date hasn’t been sufficient to bury Griffon’s suspicions.

We’ll see what happens in this session, but nobody should just assume all this will work out. The leadership of this legislature doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt anymore, no matter the fundamentals of the redistricting case.

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