The Supreme Court denied two emergency requests to restart the redrawing of Louisiana’s congressional map, a process that was likely to add a second majority-Black district.
A map passed by Louisiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature is currently blocked by a federal district judge’s preliminary ruling, which sided with a group of Black voters racial justice organizations’ claims that the design violates the Voting Rights Act.
The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court a ruling that blocked a hearing to implement a remedial map, which would have been used as the state tries to defend its design in multiple lower courts. The plaintiffs warned that the justices’ intervention was necessary to ensure a fair map for the 2024 election.
In a brief order with no public dissents, the court declined the requests to immediately resume the remedial hearing.
But in a solo concurring opinion authored by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the liberal justice said she still expected the hearing to move ahead.
“I read the Fifth Circuit’s mandamus ruling to require the District Court to delay its remedial hearing only until the Louisiana Legislature has had sufficient time to consider alternative maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act,” Jackson wrote.
“The State has now represented, in its filings before this Court, that the legislature will not consider such maps while litigation over the enacted map is pending. … Therefore, the District Court will presumably resume the remedial process while the Fifth Circuit considers the State’s appeal of the preliminary injunction,” Jackson added.
Louisiana is one of several Southern states whose maps have landed in the hands of the justices in connection with racial gerrymandering or vote-dilution allegations.
On their normal docket, the justices recently considered Alabama’s map, they are actively weighing South Carolina’s map, and a case challenging Arkansas’s map is waiting in the wings.
In other courts, congressional redistricting fights are also moving ahead in states including New York and Georgia.
In Louisiana, the Legislature overruled the Democratic governor’s veto and passed a map that includes one majority-Black congressional district out of the state’s six, despite about one-third of Louisiana’s population being Black.
A federal district judge in a preliminary ruling blocked the map, and that ruling remains in effect. At issue before the Supreme Court was the judge’s scheduling of an Oct. 2 hearing to implement a remedial map as the case proceeds.
Days before the hearing, a divided panel on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the proceeding by issuing a rare form of relief, called a writ of mandamus.
Over the dissent of the panel’s lone Democratic appointee, the two Republican appointees described the hearing as a “game of ambush.” They ordered that before the judge could step in to implement a remedial map, they must first give Louisiana’s Legislature an opportunity to pass revised districts.
The plaintiffs — Black voters, the NAACP Louisiana State Conference and Power Coalition for Equity and Justice — then filed emergency appeals at the Supreme Court, calling the panel’s ruling “extraordinary” and urging the justices to stay it. The plaintiffs warned that staying out of the case would raise the possibility that an illegal map would be used for the 2024 elections.
“The motions panel usurped the appellate process and asserted unprecedented control of the district court’s ordinary docket management decisions, including whether and when to set a case for trial and whether and when to hold a hearing regarding a remedy for what the district court had already preliminarily enjoined as a likely violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” one group of plaintiffs wrote.
Beyond expressing confidence that the remedial hearing will still move ahead, Jackson in her concurring opinion said the Supreme Court wasn’t endorsing the lower court’s practice.
“First, nothing in our decision not to summarily reverse the Fifth Circuit should be taken to endorse the practice of issuing an extraordinary writ of mandamus in these or similar circumstances,” Jackson wrote.
The state could eventually have its map restored if it either wins at trial or emerges victorious in the appeal of the preliminary ruling, and it urged the Supreme Court to stay out of the case.
“This Court’s unbroken pronouncements establish that their preliminary win via a rushed preliminary-injunction hearing is no substitute for a final trial on the merits,” Louisiana wrote in court filings. “The Plaintiffs’ attempt to skirt the normal litigation process demonstrates that the equities weigh decidedly in the State’s favor.”
The plaintiffs had raised concerns that, if the lower court’s preliminary ruling stands, delaying the remedial hearing could leave election changes to the last minute.
“The procedural history makes clear that the State has sought to delay this matter at every turn,” one group of plaintiffs wrote. “While the State expressed interest in a full trial on the merits, it has never represented a position about the timing necessary to ensure that this matter can be resolved before the 2024 congressional elections.”