WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, Sept. 28, in an extraordinary move that will delay the implementation of a fair map for Louisianans, an ultra-conservative majority of a three-judge panel granted Louisiana Republicans’ request to cancel a lower court hearing — previously scheduled for Oct. 3-5 — about Louisiana’s new congressional map.
In one fell swoop, two conservative judges appointed by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, effectively pulled the brakes on Louisiana voters’ attempt to put a fair map in place for 2024.
The order stems from Ardoin v. Robinson, a case challenging Louisiana’s congressional map under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The voters and civil rights organizations who brought the case against Louisiana’s congressional map argue that Black voters can only elect their candidate of choice in one of the state’s six congressional districts even though Black residents of Louisiana compose 33% of the total population and vote cohesively as a bloc. The lawsuit alleges that by failing to include a second minority opportunity district, the map dilutes the voting strength of Black voters in violation of Section 2 of the VRA.
In June 2022, a federal district court blocked Louisiana’s map for likely diluting the voting strength of Black Louisianans in violation of Section 2 of the VRA and ordered the state to adopt a new map with a second majority-Black district. Republican officials appealed this decision to the Supreme Court and requested emergency relief, arguing that the Louisiana case “presents the same question as” the Alabama case, Allen v. Milligan. The Court granted the Republicans’ requested relief and paused the decision blocking Louisiana’s map while also holding the case pending the outcome of Allen.
After Allen, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated an order blocking Louisiana’s congressional map for diluting the voting strength of Black voters, paving the way for Louisiana to redraw its congressional map with a second majority-Black district. Since litigation was paused while Allen was pending, the lawsuit did not yet make it to the remedial stage, the stage where the blocked map would be replaced with a new, fair map.
A hearing on how the case would proceed was scheduled for Oct. 3-5; during this time parties would argue about how the case would proceed and how the map’s likely Section 2 violation would be remedied. Concurrently, since Republican officials appealed the decision that blocked the map to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, oral argument on the appeal is still scheduled for Oct. 6.
After the decision temporarily blocking the map was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Republican officials asked the district court to cancel their own hearing scheduled for Oct. 3-5, but the district court declined their request. The court found that the only remaining issue was to choose a congressional map and the court had adequate time to do so. Having exhausted the legal avenues available to further delay the implementation of a fair map, Louisiana Republicans filed one last Hail Mary in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Instead of appealing the order that denied their request to cancel the hearing, Republican officials filed a request for mandamus in the 5th Circuit to order the lower court to cancel its hearing. (A writ of mandamus is a court order compelling a certain action.) This motion was heard by a different panel than the one currently considering Republicans’ appeal of the preliminary injunction decision. In a 2-1 order written by Edith H. Jones and joined by James Ho, conservative judges granted Louisiana’s last-ditch request, writing that redistricting litigation “is not a game of ambush.”
In a powerful dissent, Judge Stephen Higginson writes that mandamus is an extraordinary remedy and “settled caselaw confirms that mandamus is not a tool to manage a district court’s docket; nor can mandamus substitute for appeal. Yet review of this matter’s procedural history shows that mandamus here improperly does both.”
While it may seem like today’s order is simply administrative, it is not. A panel of judges, two of whom are extremely conservative, granted a motion reserved for “extraordinary remedy” to further delay a long-fought battle for a map that fairly represents Black voters.