Justice decision right on mark
posted Thursday, August 4th, 2011 @ 12:20 am
Louisiana received some good news this week when the Justice Department informed Attorney General Buddy Caldwell that Justice had no objection to the redistricting plans the Legislature approved for the state's congressional and Public Service Commission districts.
Redrawing the state's congressional and Public Service Commission districts occurred during a special legislative session earlier this year. It was a rather controversial special session that also resulted in the Legislature redrawing its own districts. Tempers flared during the special session as lawmakers argued over which incumbents in the Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives would benefit from redistricting versus those who would be short-changed by it.
At the very least, the special session on redistricting added fuel to the fire over the argument that the Legislature should be removed from the redistricting process in favor of an independent panel handling it. That's another topic for another day, though.
Redistricting was necessary to reflect changes in population in Louisiana over the past 10 years. We learned about those changes thanks to the 2010 Census. The Census showed Louisiana's population grew at a snail's pace over the past decade.
Since population growth in Louisiana did not match growth in population in states such Texas, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, Louisiana was forced to give up a congressional district. That meant Louisiana's footprint in the U.S. House would decrease from seven seats to six.
Remember, there are 435 seats, or congressional districts, in the U.S. House of Representatives. Those seats, or districts, are reapportioned every 10 years to reflect shifts in population across the country. Accordingly, states that experience growth in population over a 10-year period are rewarded with more seats in the House. States that show little or no growth in population or lose population lose seats.
The redistricting plan approved by the Legislature, which the Justice Department signed off on, maintained two congressional districts based in north Louisiana – the fifth and the fourth – that run north to south vertically. The redistricting plan also preserves Louisiana's lone majority minority district, the second district based in New Orleans. The sixth district based in Baton Rouge was left in tact for the most part while the two districts in southern Louisiana near the coast – the third and the seventh – were basically merged.
While few of the players involved in the congressional redistricting process were completely pleased with the plan state lawmakers approved, it was tolerable for the most part. And the Justice Department found the redistricting plan did not infringe on minority voting rights.
Though the Justice Department signed off on the congressional redistricting plan the Legislature approved, there exist a possibility that a lawsuit will be filed over the redistricting plan, alleging the Legislature suppressed minority voting rights by not creating a second majority minority congressional district.
Before any special interest group, including members of the legislative Black Caucus, pursue litigation to contest the redistricting plan the Legislature and Justice Department approved, we suggest that the potential litigants brush up on prior court rulings concerning congressional redistricting. We believe they'll discover they don't have a leg to stand on legally.