A federal judge Thursday rejected a request by legislative leaders to extend the deadline for a new congressional map and singled out the Louisiana House for withering criticism.
U. S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who has ordered lawmakers to approve a new map with a second majority-Black district, issued her ruling after a 90-minute hearing.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, and Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, had asked the court to extend her deadline of Monday until at least June 30.
But Dick noted that the House was in session briefly Wednesday, the first day of a six-day special session.
“With five days to work with they met for 90 minutes,” she said.
While he was on the witness stand, the judge zeroed in on Schexnayder, one of the state’s most powerful leaders.
The most dramatic moments of the hearing took place when Dick asked the speaker why he should not be held in contempt of court because he filed a bill that mirrors the current map, not one with a second majority-Black district that the judge has ordered.
She noted that federal penalties for failing to follow a court order include imprisonment and fines.
Schexnayder said his bill was a mere “placeholder” that would only be used if other bills faltered.
“This bill will sit there in committee,” he said later. “If we don’t need it it won’t be moved.”
But Dick branded the House actions “disingenuous” and “insincere” and noted that, in 1994, the Legislature approved a new congressional map in six days.
The ruling means lawmakers have until Monday at 6 p.m. to come up with a new map that includes two majority-minority districts.
If that does not happen Dick said she will craft a new map herself.
In another tense gathering, a Senate committee a few hours later voted 6-3 to delay action until Friday on a bill by Sen. Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, to add a second majority-Black congressional district.
It would do so by revamping the 6th District, held by U. S. Rep. Garret Graves, and moving voters into the northeast 5th District, which is held by freshman U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow and would become the state’s second majority-minority district.
Fields told the committee the delay would cripple any chances the Legislature will pass new boundaries by adjournment on Monday.
“You have no more time,’ Fields said.
Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell and chair of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, made the motion for the delay and said it was needed for the public to digest changes made during the roughly four-hour meeting.
“I don’t understand how you can expect us to pass a bill when it is more about the timeline than the quality or content of the bill,” Hewitt told Fields.
Republicans on the committee backed the delay and Democrats opposed it.
Hewitt also said she expects a second bill to be filed in the Senate to create a second majority-minority congressional district.
Resistance to approving a new map is especially notable in the House.
However, Cortez told the court it will be very difficult to agree on any version in a short timeframe.
“The process is about 10 days without a suspension of the rules,” he said. “Minimum.”
The Senate leader said redistricting bills are the most difficult to pass, including budget measures.
“They are emotional. It is very parochial. It is a complicated process. It is not like memorializing Mother’s Day.”
The judge was clearly most peeved at the House, whose session Wednesday featured angry exchanges between Democrats who said the Legislature is dutybound to comply with the court order.
Miffed Republicans said at the time the debate should be settled by the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U. S. Supreme Court.
They noted the current boundaries won approval from two-thirds of the Legislature after Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed the one passed in February.