Secrets in the Capitol: A charred reminder
Louisiana’s Old State Capitol was damaged by a fire in 1906 that was caused by the installation of the first electricity in the building.
A federal judge will draw a new Louisiana congressional map with a second Black district after the Legislature failed to draw new boundaries of its own in a Special Session that ended Saturday without the passage of any bill.
Louisiana Middle District U.S. Judge Shelly Dick will now draw her own map for the state from the bench.
Dick, who ruled June 6 that the congressional map passed by lawmakers in February violated the Voting Rights Act because it kept just one majority Black district, had given the Legislature a deadline of June 20 to pass new boundaries or she would take over.
Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder of Gonzales and Republican Senate President Page Cortez had unsuccessfully argued the Legislature needed more time to create a new map, a motion Dick denied in court Thursday.
As it turned out, the Legislature only used four of the six days in the Special Session before punting back to the federal judge.
Lawmakers’ last chance to pass a new map of their own ended in the Senate Saturday afternoon when Republican Sen. Rick Ward of Baton Rouge withdrew his Senate Bill 3 that would have shaken up all six congressional seats.
“The problem I’ve run into is that we can’t find anything collectively that can get us to 20 votes,” Ward said, referring to the number of votes needed for passage. “It’s a difficult task, one quite frankly that I think the courts will have to decide.”
That sets the stage for Dick’s June 29 hearing in which she could enact her own map, which she promised to do if the Legislature didn’t pass new boundaries.
Meanwhile, the state on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in to preserve the existing map passed by lawmakers in a February Special Session.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has set a July 8 hearing to review Dick’s order that threw out the map.
But Dick’s order stands unless or until another court takes action.
“The irony of all ironies is that for the first time (Friday), Louisiana recognized Juneteenth as an official state holiday,” Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “And (Saturday), on the actual holiday, which celebrates the day when enslaved Americans learned of their freedom, it is clear that our African-American brothers and sisters are still fighting for fair representation.”
Black members of the Legislature said they were disappointed, but not surprised the Legislature didn’t pass a new map.
“I think everybody came here with their minds made up,” said Democratic New Orleans Rep. Royce Duplessis, whose map creating a second Black district failed in committee.
“It is disappointing that a majority of the Legislature displayed a flippant attitude toward the court’s order to draw a second majority Black congressional district,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Sam Jenkins said. “We are hopeful that the court will act with all deliberate speed.”
Louisiana’s existing congressional map kept a similar configuration to the previous one with a single majority-Black district based in New Orleans and part of Baton Rouge represented by Democratic Congressman Troy Carter of New Orleans.
The architects of that map, which was approved by a super majority of the Legislature, stood by it and believe the boundaries will ultimately be affirmed on appeal. “I do believe them to be fair and constitutional,” said House Governmental Affairs Chairman John Stefanski, a Republican from Crowley.
Most of the maps that would create a second Black district would take it from the 5th Congressional District represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow that currently has Monroe and Alexandria as the population centers.
Republican Monroe Sen. Jay Morris railed against those options, saying they “disembowel northeast Louisiana from its traditional community of interest and does a disservice — guts — Rapides Parish.”
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1.