BATON ROUGE, La. — A federal appeals court has lifted its hold on Louisiana’s congressional redistricting. The ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal means a special session may start Wednesday for a remap ordered by a district judge.
“This is a big step in the right direction for the people of Louisiana," Gov. John Bel Edwards said after the 5th Circuit handed down its opinion Sunday.
Edwards, a Democrat, had vetoed districts drawn up after the latest census, but the Republican-dominated legislature overrode his veto in late March.
Edwards has said throughout that a single majority-Black district violates the Voting Rights Act because the state is nearly one-third African American.
“There is time for the legislature to return to the Capitol and enact congressional maps that reflect the reality of our state,” Edwards said.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, in a 152-page ruling handed down June 6, ordered the state to come up with a second majority Black district by June 20.
Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, who had filed one of three requests for the stay, said he has not decided what to do next. The state attorney general, who also is Republican, and legislative leaders did not immediately respond to queries about whether they plan to go to the Supreme Court.
"While I strongly disagree with the ruling of the panel, as Secretary of State I am obligated to comply with federal and state law, including Judge Dick’s injunction as long as it remains in effect,” Ardoin said Monday.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court held a similar order in Alabama. However, the 5th Circuit noted, a ruling in that case “likely will come long after the 2022 elections, which are the subject of this appeal.”
Alabama's election was less than four months away when the high court acted, with absentee voting to start in about two months, the 5th Circuit wrote.
In Louisiana, it said, “weeks remain before the earliest candidate filing deadline, and months remain before the primary elections.”
The 5th Circuit also called Sunday for a full appeal of Judge Shelly Dick’s decision to be heard during the week of July 4. Sunday's decision did not consider whether her opinion was correct — only whether Ardoin and other defendants had shown they were very likely to win an appeal.
“Neither the plaintiffs’ arguments nor the district court’s analysis is entirely watertight. And it is feasible that the merits panel, conducting a less-rushed examination of the record in the light of differently framed arguments, may well side with the defendants,” the three-judge panel wrote.
The judges rejected claims that the districts were a racial gerrymander.
Race was considered by experts who drew up alternative maps for voters who challenged the districts, but that alone does not constitute gerrymandering, the opinion said.
“The defendants have not shown that the plaintiffs’ maps prioritized race so highly as to commit racial gerrymandering, or that complying with the district court’s order would require the Legislature to adopt a predominant racial purpose,” the judges wrote.