Legislators ask more time to comply with redistricting order

Jun 14, 2022, 12:20 PM | Updated: 1:36 pm

FILE - Senate President Page Cortez presides over opening day of the Louisiana legislative session ...

FILE - Senate President Page Cortez presides over opening day of the Louisiana legislative session in Baton Rouge, La., on April 12, 2021. Louisiana’s legislative leaders are asking for at least 10 more days to comply with a federal judge’s order to redraw congressional districts by June 20, 2022, so two have Black majorities. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Louisiana’s legislative leaders are asking for at least 10 more days to comply with a federal judge’s order to redraw congressional districts so two have Black majorities. On Tuesday, the judge scheduled a hearing on that request, to be held Thursday.

Also Tuesday, a federal appeals court scheduled arguments July 8 about Judge Shelly Dick’s ruling that the current districts violate the Voting Rights Act.

The Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, have been fighting over the issue since February, when the legislature approved a congressional map with white majorities in five of six districts.

Edwards vetoed it, saying that because Louisiana’s population is nearly one-third Black, at least two districts should have African American majorities. The legislature overrode his veto.

Dick ordered legislators to create new districts, including two that are majority Black, by next Monday.

There’s no way to do that, Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder said in a motion filed Monday.

The six-day session is scheduled to start Wednesday and end Monday. The legislators are asking for at least until June 30.

The state Constitution and legislative rules make it impossible for a redistricting bill created in one house to be acted on in the other before a session’s seventh day unless rules are suspended, according to their motion.

Dick ordered both Cortez and Schexnayder to testify in person at Thursday’s hearing.

The redistricting special session from Feb. 1 to 18 was focused on a “status quo plan … that seeks to protect voter expectations” — a replica of the one approved in 2011, the motion said.

Dick has ordered a very different plan, creating “a difficult and time-consuming task” requiring much negotiation, the motion said.

“There are 144 legislators in the State Legislature, and each has different ideas of how a redistricting plan should be configured,” the legislative leaders argued.

Those representing areas where a majority Black district might be created “are almost certain to have differing ideas of how communities of interest should be preserved, joined, and separated, and these discussions and negotiation will take time,” the motion said.

In addition, it said a six-day session would not give state residents a chance to come to the Capitol and tell legislators what they want.

“The current remedial schedule would compel the Legislature to redistrict (if at all) behind closed doors, without meaningful public input, and without opportunity to respond to that input,” said a statement by Cortez.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal briefly put a hold on Dick’s deadline, but removed that hold Sunday.

It was not deciding whether Dick was right to find the plan illegal, the three-judge panel noted. Rather, the judges said, they were ruling only on whether the legislative leaders, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and Attorney General Jeff Landry had shown they were very likely to win an appeal.

That appeal was scheduled Tuesday for a session the morning of July 8.

“Neither the plaintiffs’ arguments nor the district court’s analysis is entirely watertight,” Sunday’s opinion said. “And it is feasible that the merits panel, conducting a less-rushed examination of the record in the light of differently framed arguments, may well side with the defendants.”

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Legislators ask more time to comply with redistricting order