By: Nick Brookings
With the 2020 Census completed, time has come for states to officially begin the redistricting process. This once a decade process is hugely important as cleverly planned districts can make all the difference in a state legislature by guaranteeing one party a majority for years to come. With the divisive decision of Rucho v. Common Cause in 2019, the court ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims “present political question beyond the reach of the federal courts.” With this decision a federal hurdle in the way of gerrymandering has been cleared, signaling that the gerrymandering possibilities are open as long as federal racial gerrymandering standards are met. Redistricting is always hugely impactful for state and federal legislatures, and the dominant parties of each state, or redistricting commissions, are rushing to create their plans.
Into this field comes Louisiana, which is in an interesting position. The 2020 census has revealed that significant population shifts have occurred across the state. Importantly, much of this shift has been from rural and northern Louisiana citizens moving down south to the metro areas which live along the I-12 and I-10 corridors. This area includes large cities such as New Orleans and Baton Rouge while northern Louisiana has comparatively far fewer large cities, with the largest being Shreveport in the northwestern portion of the state. This population shift brings back a debate from 2011: the decision to have two of the six Louisiana Congressional House seats come from the northern part of the state. The governor at the time, Bobby Jindal, heavily pushed for it, and whether or not this decision will survive the redistricting process has yet to be determined.
By far the largest issue at play, and one which is at play in most states, is the political alignment of the new districts. And unlike in many states, this issue is one which is going to be contentious. This is due to the political alignment of the Louisiana legislature and governorship. In the legislature, the Republicans hold a supermajority in the Senate, and are only two House seats away from a supermajority in that chamber. If achieved, this would allow the Republican dominated legislature to overturn any gubernatorial vetoes. This is especially important in Louisiana as the current governor is a Democrat. Because of this, unless the Republican legislature can somehow convince two democratic House members to switch sides, the governor will have his veto in order to prevent any overly partisan maps from being drawn. Each party will thus be doing their best to prevent the other from gaining too much of an advantage, although the current split of power between the parties seems to suggest it will largely be the Democrats playing defense through vetoing maps that they find to overly favor Republicans.
This redistricting process is also complicated by the very poor minority representation in the state. Despite black voters making up nearly one third of registered voters, only one of Louisiana’s six Congressman is Black. The state legislature is also imbalanced. This imbalance comes from a forty year old deal between Republicans and Black Democrats, who allied to create more Republican districts by packing Black voters into districts, guaranteeing those Black representatives safe seats. This deal seems like it is coming to an end, with the head of the Black Caucus stating his members are willing to accept smaller Black voter percentages in their districts in order to create more Democratic seats. Whether or not this push will collide with Republican desires to cement a legislative super-majority is unknown, but it is certain that the Louisiana redistricting process will be an interesting one.