In a historic vote, one cast for the first time in 31 years, the Louisiana Legislature voted on March 30 to overturn Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the congressional redistricting maps.
According to Gov. Edwards, he vetoed the map because it does not add a second majority minority district and runs afoul of federal law. Out of the 163 total districts created by the Legislature, not a single additional majority minority seat was created, despite the fact that the percentage of the black population increased and the white population decreased.
The maps are redrawn every 10 years based on data collected by the U.S. Census, which also determines the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions in federal funds to local communities.
District 31 Senator Louie Bernard said that while it’s a complicated process, the bottom line is that a lot of votes were cast to get it to the court, who will have the final say.
“The house and the senate were responsible for following the guidelines they were under for creating a map,” he explained. While some people might say two districts should have been drawn, gerrymandering is outlawed and the legislature did what it thought will pass the muster of a court challenge.
Likewise, District 22 State Representative Gabe Firment was happy with the outcome. This moment is important because it’s part of the legislature’s job to redistrict every 10 years. It’s also important because it establishes that the legislature is united and that it has the power and the will to override the governor again if it needs to.
“I’m glad to see they were able to successfully override the governor’s veto for the first time in a long time,” he shared. “A historic precedent was set today.”
Besides federal criteria, there are state based requirements for redistricting, which can include contiguity (all areas within a district should be physically adjacent), compactness (constituents within a district should live as near to one another as practicable), community of interest (group of people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood, who have common political, social or economic interests), and political boundaries (e.g., the limits of counties, cities, and towns).
While the governor cast his veto because he saw a need for two majority Black congressional districts, the legislature felt it was impossible to draw another Black majority district with the way the African American population is dispersed throughout the state.
“The only way would have been if we would have done that with race being the biggest factor, which is just not constitutional,” said Firment. “I don’t think it would have survived a challenge in court.”