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  • Writer's pictureStaff @ LPR

Federal court adjourns on Louisiana Congressional map hearing

The third day of the Louisiana Congressional district map hearing, Callais et al. v Landry, began with final witnesses before closing arguments were presented.

Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the map because they believe it violates the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. They argue that the map was drawn with race as the predominant factor, and it is unconstitutional.

The new district map, Senate Bill 8, was passed in a special session in January and signed by Governor Jeff Landry.

The decision came after the Middle District Court and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals responded to the Robinson v. Landry challenge.

Closing Arguments

  • Plaintiffs

The plaintiffs argue that the goal stated in the special session was to draw a map with two Black-majority districts. They say that the district court never explicitly said this was a requirement but rather that the map needed to satisfy redistricting guidelines such as compactness and connectedness.

The plaintiffs referred to their witnesses, Senator Alan Seabaugh and Senator Thomas Pressly, who said the legislature was instructed to draw a second majority-minority during the session.

They also referred to witness and demographer Mike Hefner, who said the proposed District 6 has the highest Black voting-age population, 54 percent. Plaintiffs argued this was a way to maximize BvaP.

The proposed District 6 would travel from Caddo and De Soto to East Baton Rouge, and plaintiffs say it is “extreme” with “twists and turns” to avoid pockets of whites.

Finally, the plaintiffs say that the fear of the Voting Rights Act somewhere does not mean the map can be gerrymandered anywhere. They said that the legislature created two Black districts to end the two-year litigation rather than sighting evidence in a different map like voter turnout rates.

  • Defendants and Intervenors

The defendants and Intervenors say that the plaintiffs would call any map gerrymandering if it were in accordance with the Voting Rights Act. The Act states that congressional district lines should be drawn to reflect that representation of the state.

They say race was not the predominant factor; rather, it was politics to protect incumbents and target Congressman Garrett Graves.

While the defendants had witnesses testify on the communities of District 6, the plaintiffs did not speak to the impact that removing the second majority-minority would have. Defendants say this has been more than two years of litigation, and a reversal of the map could lead to apathy among voters who feel their voice is not heard.

Before closing arguments, the defendants and intervenors were able to call upon two final witnesses. District 5 Louisiana State Senator Royce Duplessis and Commissioner Davante Lewis for the Louisiana Public Service Commission District 3 were called to testify.

Duplessis introduced and co-authored Senate Bill 4, one of the congressional district maps with two Black majority districts that died in committee. He says the current map, Senate Bill 8, only differed from SB-4 by geography, and he voted yes to the bill, hoping it would end almost two years of litigation.

Duplessis says the SB-8 map was driven by politics. The legislature knew the map would protect some members of Congress, but not Congressman Garrett Graves. Duplessis says the passage of the proposed map was an incredibly proud moment and a sign that the legislature can do the right thing.

Commissioner Lewis testified that he lobbied for and supported SB-4 because it followed all the redistricting principles while having an additional majority-minority district. Again, SB-4 died in committee, but Lewis was happy with the ultimate passage of SB-8.

In an interview, Lewis said he is confident the three-judge panel will observe the rule of law and prevail.

“The defendants and the intervenors clearly demonstrated that race was not the predominant factor in redrawing these congressional lines and that the plaintiff does not have an argumentation that’s based in any merit,” said Lewis.

He adds that removing the second majority-minority would negatively impact communities.

“Losing this district would send I think harm down the spine of so many Louisianans who finally have a little bit of hope that they may have an opportunity to have their lives improved by participating in our political system. And so, I hope that we do not turn back the time on progress,” said Lewis.

Representatives for the State also presented video excerpts from the Louisiana House Chamber to the court. In the video, Governor Jeff Landry said a new map is needed because they have “exhausted all legal remedies.” He asked that the members join him in passing SB-8 so that it would not be turned over to a “heavy-handed judge.”

The State also delivered a closing argument, saying race was not the predominating factor. The three main factors were drawing a congressional district map that complies with the court orders, passing a proposed map to preserve the legislature’s ability to draw its map, and politics and protecting incumbents.

Post-trial briefs must be submitted on April 17th, and a ruling could come shortly thereafter.


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