Judges ask whether lawmakers could draw up new House map in time for this year's elections

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Federal judges who threw out a congressional election map giving Louisiana a second mostly Black district told state lawyers Monday to determine whether the Legislature could draw up a new map in time for this year's elections.

The order was spelled out in a federal court entry following a meeting of judges and attorneys involved in complex litigation over the racial makeup of the state's congressional delegation.

The state currently has five white Republican House members and one Black member, a Democrat. All were elected most recently under a map the Legislature drew up in 2022.

A federal judge in Baton Rouge has said the 2022 map likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act by dividing many of the state's Black residents — about a third of the population — among five districts. The Legislature responded with a map creating a new district crossing the state diagonally and linking Black populations from Shreveport in the northwest, Alexandria in the center and Lafayette and Baton Rouge in the south.

A group of self-identified non-African American voters filed suit against that map, saying it was unconstitutionally drawn up with race as the main factor. That suit was filed in western Louisiana. A three-judge panel heard arguments and ruled 2-1 against the map.

The Louisiana Secretary of State's Office, which runs the state's elections, has said they need districts in place by May 15 to prepare for July's candidate sign-up period and the fall elections.

State lawyers were given until Tuesday night to file a brief “explaining the feasibility of the Louisiana Legislature enacting a new Congressional map in time for the 2024 Congressional election” and “whether there is a legislative vehicle to enact a new congressional districting map during the 2024 regular session.” That session is going on now in Baton Rouge.

Also, the Secretary of State's Office was told to file a brief concerning its deadlines.

With no map in place for the fall elections, the judges could decide to impose a map on the state. There are alternatives to the map approved in January, which Republican Gov. Jeff Landry and other Republicans backed as the best way to protect powerful Republican incumbents.

During earlier litigation, supporters of a second mostly Black district suggested maps creating a more compact district covering much of the eastern part of the state.

And on Monday, a group of LSU and Tulane University professors submitted to the judges a map that they said would give Black voters an opportunity to elect the candidate of their choice. The map contained no majority Black districts, but contained two districts that they said would likely favor candidates favored by Black voters, based on historical voting patterns.