The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Louisiana congressional map to be redrawn to add another majority-Black district.
The justices reversed plans to hear the case themselves and lifted a hold they placed on a lower court’s order for a reworked redistricting regime. There were no noted dissents.
The move from the high court comes after a ruling the justices issued earlier this month about Alabama’s congressional maps that upheld how courts have historically approached the redistricting provisions in the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law that Black voters are using to challenge the Louisiana congressional plan.
“Today’s decision follows on the heels of the court’s 5-4 ruling earlier this month holding that Alabama also has to re-draw its congressional district maps to include a second majority-minority district,” said Steve Vladeck, a CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
“And like the Alabama ruling, it doesn’t explain why the court nevertheless had issued emergency relief to allow Louisiana to use its unlawful maps during the 2022 midterm cycle,” Vladeck added. “It puts the court’s interventions last year into ever-sharper perspective.”
The new order means that the lower court proceedings in the case, which were put on hold by the conservative majority in late June of last year, will restart. At the time, a merits panel of the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals was preparing for an expedited review of a judge’s ruling that said that the 5-1 congressional plan likely violated the Voting Rights Act.
The judge, US District Judge Shelly Dick, had been considering a remedial congressional plan, after lawmakers in Louisiana refused to pass a plan with a second majority-Black district themselves.
The justices said Monday that their latest move “will allow the matter to proceed before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for review in the ordinary course and in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana.”
Louisiana state officials were sued last year for a congressional map – passed by the Republican legislature over Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto – that made only one of its six districts majority Black, despite the 2020 census showing that the state’s population is 33% Black.
Order comes after justices froze redrawing of map before midterms
More than a year ago, Dick ordered the map redrawn to add a second Black-majority district to the congressional plan, finding that the map drawn by the Republicans likely violated the Voting Right Act’s prohibitions against racial discrimination in voting.
The judge wrote that “the evidence of Louisiana’s long and ongoing history of voting-related discrimination weighs heavily in favor of” the arguments put forward by the Louisiana State conference of the NAACP and the other challengers that brought the case.
The case, known as Robinson v. Ardoin, then went to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, a very conservative appeals court, and a three-judge appellate panel – which included two circuit judges that were Republican appointees – declined to put Dick’s order on hold. The appeals court expedited a fuller review of the case, but those proceedings were frozen last summer once the Louisiana officials successfully sought intervention from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court in late June of last year, took up the case but put it on pause while it decided the challenge to the Alabama map.
In filings after the Alabama ruling was handed down, lawyers for the Louisiana Republican state officials argued that the Louisiana dispute presented a “unique situation” that would allow the high court to resolve legal questions about the Voting Rights Act that they claimed were left open by the Alabama ruling, known as Milligan.
“Today’s decision in Milligan does not address the district court’s significant errors of law that should rightly result in reversal,” the Louisiana filing said.
The state’s opponents countered that the district court in the Louisiana case had decided that the 5-1 map likely violated the Voting Rights Act under the same exact legal test the Supreme Court sanctioned in its Alabama ruling.
“Plaintiffs in both Milligan and Robinson presented the kind of evidence this Court has long required and has now reaffirmed in Milligan as sufficient to prove a (Voting Rights Act Section 2) violation,” the filing from the map’s challengers said.
One of the lawyers challenging the map, Abha Khanna, of the Elias Group, cheered the Supreme Court’s move to send the case back to lower courts.
“By dismissing this case as improvidently granted, the Supreme Court once again affirmed the power of the Voting Rights Act to prevent racially discriminatory redistricting, this time in Louisiana,” Khanna said in a statement. “Black voters in Louisiana have suffered one election under a congressional map that unlawfully dilutes their political influence. Thankfully, Louisiana is now on track to add an additional minority opportunity district in time for 2024, ensuring that Black Louisianians are finally afforded fair representation in the state’s congressional delegation.”
Angelique Freel, civil division director at the Louisiana attorney general’s office, said: “Our job is to defend what the legislature passed, and we trust the 5th Circuit will review the merits in accordance with the law.”
This story has been updated with additional details.