WASHINGTON – About 100 Louisiana students gathered in the plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday as the nine justices debated whether to change how state legislatures draw districts that determine which candidates are elected to Congress.
The High Court heard arguments about a case in Alabama, but it’s almost identical to a challenge in Louisiana.
“We really understand that our cases are related,” said Ashley Shelton, executive director of the New Orleans-based Power Coalition. She flew to Washington with students from Dillard University and Southern University to support grassroots groups from Alabama.
“Having listened to the arguments, I would say it would be difficult for them to gut the Voting Rights Act,” Shelton said. “It was a strong day. I am hopefull.”
A decision is not expected until spring.
“This is the most important redistribution case brought before the court in recent history, and the ramifications of its pending judgment go to the heart of our democracy,” said US Rep. Troy Carter, the New Orleans Democrat , who represents the state’s only majority-minority district: “I have no doubt that this case will shape the next chapter of Louisiana history.”
Its 2nd congressional district stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and includes black-majority districts along the Mississippi River. The other five districts in Louisiana are majority white — and have had white Republicans in Congress for the past 10 years.
“Unless the Supreme Court rejects racially motivated gerrymandering in Alabama, we face a situation where minority communities — primarily in the South — are structurally constrained to have a smaller political voice and a smaller voice,” Carter added.
Like Louisiana lawmakers after the 2020 census, Alabama state legislatures kept the same “race-neutral” congressional districts drawn a decade ago, only adjusting the lines to balance the population.
“That wasn’t good enough for the plaintiffs,” Alabama attorney general Edmund G. LaCour told the court, which has a 6-3 majority of conservative judges. “They argued that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act required Alabama to replace its map with a racially engineered plan that maximizes the number of majority minority districts.
LaCour asked the Supreme Court to accept Alabama’s “racially neutral” maps drawn to include communities of interest and reject maps drawn along racial lines to add a second majority-minority district.
A group of black voters from Alabama filed a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, arguing that while the state’s population is 27 percent black, only one of its seven U.S. representative districts, or 14 percent, is majority black.
Louisiana’s African American population is more than 31%, lives close enough together, and is in a state that has historically discriminated against black voters who are Section 2 members.
A lower court in Alabama in January overturned the map drawn by the Republican-majority government of Alabama, ruling that a second majority-minority district was needed in order not to dilute the strength of black voters.
Similarly, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick of Baton Rouge ruled June 6 that the maps approved by the Louisiana Legislature did not meet the standards of the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Dick noted that the Legislature packed Black voters into one of Louisiana’s six congressional districts—the 2nd district—and divided Black neighborhoods in the other five in a way that left minority voters scattered in mostly white districts.
The Supreme Court stayed both lower court orders — meaning the Nov. 8 election would be held with maps in place — until the Supreme Court could rule on the Alabama case.
On Tuesday, Shelton of the Power Coalition said some questions asked by the more conservative members of the High Court gave them hope.
Although Judge Samuel Alito said it was too easy for people to sue by showing that another district could be drawn where minority residents make up the majority of voters, he joined Judges Amy Coney to question Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh attorneys on both sides, whether that is the case Legal norms established by previous Supreme Court decisions should be consulted in determining discrimination.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a New Orleans native, said on her second day on the Supreme Court that a “race-neutral” approach violates precedent since the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, which aimed to ensure blacks are legally treated the same as whites .
“This is not a race-neutral or race-blind idea,” she said.