A federal appeals court has set a mid-January deadline for the Louisiana state Legislature to draw up a new congressional map, the latest in a long-running legal dispute that included a lower court ruling that the current map likely unfairly diluted the power of black voters.
The appeals court's order notes that if the state Legislature fails to adopt a new map by the deadline, then the lower court should move ahead to a trial to finalize the redrawn boundaries in time for the 2024 election.
If there are objections to the new map, then the matter will be returned to the lower court for consideration of whether it's consistent with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as alleged by opponents of the current map, which was adopted by Louisiana's GOP-led Legislature.
The appeals court noted in its decision that it was merely reviewing the grant of a preliminary injunction and not issuing a final judgment in the case.
The appeals court's order vacates a 2022 lower court ruling that the appellate judges stated was "issued with the urgency of establishing a map for the 2022 election" and "is no longer necessary."
The appeals court also found that the lower court was probably correct in finding that the map approved by Louisiana's GOP-controlled Legislature broke the law.
Legal BattleThe battle over Louisiana's congressional map has been marked by twists and turns, including when Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed the Republican-led redistricting map, prompting lawmakers to respond by overriding his objection and turning the map into law.
After the veto was overridden, a coalition of plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), sued.
A spokesperson from the ACLU of Louisiana praised the appeals court's decision.
“Today’s ruling has strengthened our resolve to continue the fight for fair maps that affirm the fundamental voting rights of our community,” Alanah Odoms, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, said in a statement.
In line with the ruling, Republican Jeff Landry, Louisiana governor-elect, said he intends to call a special session to redraw the map.
"Redistricting is a state legislative function. Based on today's ruling, I will call for a special session so our Legislature may resolve this issue," Mr. Landry told media outlets in a statement.
However, Mr. Landry doesn't assume office until Jan. 8, which means time will be tight to meet the Jan. 15 deadline.
Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards, the current Louisiana governor, hasn't indicated whether he'd be willing to call the special session before the end of his term. He issued a statement saying only that the appellate court's ruling leaves him "confident" that the state "will have a fair map with two majority Black districts before the congressional elections next year."
Louisiana's current map has white majorities in five of six districts. Black voters make up roughly a third of the state's population.
Democrats have argued that the map discriminates against black voters, while Republicans have said that the map is fair because black populations in the state are too scattered throughout the state to form a second majority-black district.
The 5th Circuit ruling is the latest development in Robinson v. Ardoin, the lawsuit filed in 2022 by a coalition of groups and individuals represented by the ACLU.
Outside of Louisiana, there are a number of other fights over new congressional lines that could influence which party will control the House of Representatives after the 2024 election.
Republicans have drawn up a map in North Carolina that could help them flip at least three seats, while Democrats hope to pick up seats in legal battles playing out in New York and Georgia.