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The Supreme Court won't speed up the redrawing of Louisiana's congressional map

People line up to vote at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans in 2020.
Gerald Herbert
/
AP
People line up to vote at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans in 2020.

Updated October 19, 2023 at 6:28 PM ET

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request to speed up the redrawing of Louisiana's map of congressional districts, after a federal judge found that map likely dilutes the voting strength of the state's Black voters.

The high court's decision is the latest step in a long-running legal fight.

Three weeks after a lower appeals court blocked the federal judge's hearing for a new map, the Supreme Court on Thursday released both an order denying an emergency request to revive the canceled hearing and a concurring opinion by Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson that pointed toward a way forward.

Jackson noted that the state's Republican-controlled legislature has told the high court that it's not planning to weigh in on this redrawing process while it defends the map it approved in 2022. The judge will now "presumably resume the remedial process while the Fifth Circuit considers the State's appeal" of the judge's ruling against the legislature-approved map, Jackson added.

A tentative hearing for selecting a new map is scheduled to start in early February.

The case is among several attempts by Republican state officials in the South to reshape how federal courts interpret protections against racial discrimination under the landmark Voting Rights Act, and its resolution could help determine the balance of power in the next Congress.

Attorneys for groups of Black voters in Louisiana and organizations who originally filed the lawsuits asked the Supreme Court to block last month's ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The panelvoted 2-1 to cancel a lower court's hearing for selecting a new redistricting plan that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick had scheduled to start on Oct. 3.

"The district court did not follow the law of the Supreme Court or this court. Its action in rushing redistricting via a court-ordered map is a clear abuse of discretion for which there is no alternative means of appeal," U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, wrote inthe majority opinion, which was joined by Circuit Judge James Ho, a Trump appointee.

Circuit Judge Stephen Higginson, an Obama appointee, dissented, pointing out in a separate opinion that GOP state officials have already appealed Dick's preliminary injunction ruling. A separate panel of 5th Circuit judges heard oral arguments for that appeal on Oct. 6.

The Sept. 28 ruling complicated the process for creating a new congressional map to replace one that Dick found likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Black Louisianans.

The map approved by the state's Republican-controlled legislature includes only one district out of six where Black Louisianans — who make up close to a third of the state's population — have a realistic opportunity of electing their preferred candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Dick, however, has ruled that to get in line with the Voting Rights Act, there should be two opportunity districts for Black voters.

Given how racially polarized voting is in Louisiana, those districts would likely elect Democratic candidates, who could help Democrats take back control of the U.S. House after next year's elections.

The panel's ruling was the latest twist in a redistricting lawsuit that the Supreme Court previously reviewed. GOP state officials appealed the case to the country's highest court last year with a request that, among other legal questions, asked the court to weigh in onwhich Louisianans of voting age should be categorized as Black when testing whether a redistricting plan dilutes the political power of Black voters.

The courtallowed the map struck down by Dick to be used in last year's midterm elections while the justices reviewed both the Louisiana case and a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama.

The high court ultimatelysent the Louisiana case back to the lower courts for review in June "in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana."

Republican state officials have been arguing that the case should push past this preliminary stage of the lawsuit, which was interrupted last year by their request for the Supreme Court to weigh in, and move toward a trial.

In court filings, their attorneys have signaled they're preparing a novel argument to defend the state legislature-approved map.They cite the Supreme Court'srecent ruling on affirmative action to argue that race-based redistricting under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act may no longer be constitutional.

Edited by Benjamin Swasey andHeidi Glenn

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.