Louisiana Voters Still Don’t Have Legislative Maps as State Seeks 5th Circuit Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Voters in Louisiana are still waiting for new legislative maps months after a federal district court struck down the state’s electoral districts for violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The delay is due in part to the state’s inaction as it waits for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on a legal issue impacting a number of cases involving Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) — the question of whether private parties are allowed to bring claims under the federal provision, according to a June 7 joint status report.

But the nation’s most conservative court has yet to announce whether it will hold the requested hearing, leaving Louisiana voters hanging in the balance once again.

A federal district court in Louisiana in February struck down the state’s House and Senate districts, finding that the plaintiffs — a group of Black voters and civil rights groups who sued in 2022 — sufficiently demonstrated that the legislative maps violate Section 2. The state later appealed to the 5th Circuit.

Louisiana officials in April filed a petition for a 5th Circuit hearing en banc — “en banc” means the entire court — following a ruling from the 8th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in a separate case which held that private litigants can no longer bring lawsuits under Section 2, only the U.S. attorney general. 

They’re now seeking the same conclusion the 8th Circuit reached about whether private individuals or groups can challenge maps under Section 2. The petition says the 8th Circuit’s decision “rightly concluded that Section 2 does not contain an implied private right of action.”

In a May 3 order, the federal district court said if the Legislature didn’t pass a VRA-compliant map by the time the legislative session ends on June 3, the court would grant the plaintiffs’ motion to have the court schedule deadlines for remedial proceedings. “The pending appellate review does not absolve the Defendants (the state) of their obligation to comply with this Court’s Order,” the court said.

A 5th Circuit ruling that the plaintiffs have no right to sue could jeopardize the plaintiffs’ standing in this case and potentially impact other redistricting cases in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas — all states that the 5th Circuit covers. 

Last year, the 5th Circuit declined a request from Louisiana Republicans to reconsider its own VRA precedent in a lawsuit challenging Louisiana’s congressional maps. The petition asked the 5th Circuit to reconsider the ability of private parties to sue under Section 2 in the wake of the 8th Circuit ruling.

The court has in the past year demonstrated an alarming trend of rehearing cases with pro-democratic rulings. While Louisiana officials did not ask for a rehearing in this case, they’re seeking a ruling that would make it more difficult for voting rights groups and individual voters to challenge maps they believe are unfair. 

Read more about the Louisiana redistricting case here.

Read more about the 8th Circuit’s Section 2 ruling here.