By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Supreme Court on Tuesday reinstated a Republican-drawn map of Louisiana’s six U.S. House of Representatives districts that had been blocked by a judge who found that it likely discriminates against Black voters, a setback for Democrats as they try to retain control of Congress in November’s elections.
The justices granted a request by Louisiana’s Republican secretary of state to put on hold U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s injunction requiring a new map that has a second district where Black voters represent the majority of voters rather than just one in the version adopted by the Republican-led state legislature.
The conservative-majority nine-member court’s three liberal justices dissented from the decision.
Democrats control the U.S. House by a slim margin, making every seat vital in Republican efforts to wrest control from President Joe Biden’s party one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections.
The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 12 had refused to reinstate the Republican-drawn Louisiana districts, calling evidence presented by Black voters who challenged the map “stronger” than evidence presented in defense of the map.
The plaintiffs said in their lawsuit that the Republican-drawn map maximizes “political power for white citizens” by packing large numbers of Black voters into a single district and dispersing the rest into the five others where they are too few to elect their preferred candidates.
The Louisiana legislature passed the map in February. Democratic Governor Jon Bel Edwards then vetoed it https://gov.louisiana.gov/index.cfm/newsroom/detail/3585 – criticizing it for failing to include a second Black-majority district considering that Black voters comprise almost a third of the state’s population – but the legislature overrode the veto.
Democrats have accused Republicans of exploiting state legislature majorities to draw electoral maps that dilute the clout of Black and other minority voters, who tend to support Democratic candidates. Republicans have said the consideration of race in drawing electoral maps must be limited.
After the map was challenged by groups of Black voters – one alongside civil rights groups including the Louisiana NAACP – the judge ruled that the way it was drawn likely violated the Voting Rights Act. That landmark 1965 federal law for decades has been used to counter racially biased actions in voting and drawing electoral districts.
The plaintiffs said that in Louisiana, “stark racially polarized voting almost universally leads to the electoral defeat of Black-preferred candidates.”
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said in his legal filing that the judge’s order to adopt a second majority-Black district requires race to predominate in the map-making process, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The Louisiana dispute mirrors one from Alabama that the Supreme Court has already agreed to hear that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act. Arguments in the Alabama case are scheduled for Oct. 4. The eventual ruling, due by the end of June 2023, could make it harder for courts to consider race when determining whether an electoral district map violates the Voting Rights Act’s Section 2, which bars voting practices that result in racial discrimination.
The Supreme Court’s order on Tuesday said they justices would take up the Louisiana case and hold it until it decides the Alabama case.
The Louisiana case is among dozens of legal challenges nationwide over the composition of electoral districts, which are redrawn each decade to reflect population changes as measured by a national census, last taken in 2020.
In most states, such redistricting is done by the party in power, which can lead to map manipulation for partisan gain.
In a ruling last July in favor of Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona, the Supreme Court made it harder to prove violations under Section 2.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)