Louisiana News

Lawmakers override Edwards’ veto of congressional redistricting maps

(The Center Square) – Louisiana lawmakers voted Wednesday to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of the congressional redistricting map they approved last month before quickly concluding a special session that lasted about three hours.

The Louisiana House voted, 72-31, and the Senate voted, 27-11, to override Edwards’ veto of House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 5, identical measures that establish new congressional districts for the next decade.

The vote was the first time since 1993 the Legislature successfully mustered the two-thirds majority in both chambers to overrule a gubernatorial veto.

Edwards vetoed the legislation March 9 “because it does not add a second majority minority district and runs afoul of federal law,” he wrote.

Democrats and voting rights activists argued throughout the special redistricting session in February the state’s growing Black population – now at about one-third of the total population – deserves the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice in two of Louisiana’s six congressional districts.

Republicans countered that diluting the existing minority majority district to create another could result in no opportunity and repeatedly cited competing priorities in the process, including state and federal laws and criteria set by the Legislature last year.

Rep. John Stefanski, R-Crowley, presented HB 1, sponsored by Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, in the House for the override vote, stressing the chamber’s constitutional duty to create new congressional districts every decade.

“Most of you understand why we’re here today,” he said.

Reps. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, and Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, spoke up in opposition to HB 1 to urge a “no” vote on the override.

Marcelle questioned Stefanski on why lawmakers bothered to gather public input on the map, which overwhelmingly called for a second minority majority district, if they did not intend on incorporating the feedback.

She also cited several other proposed maps that did include a second minority majority district that were disregarded in committee.

“I’m not interested in rehashing that,” Stefanski said.

Duplessis cited the 4.4% increase in the Black population between 2010 and 2020, argued the redistricting process was “rife with politics” and alleged HB 1 violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“If it put the people first, we’d have a map with two districts for African Americans in this state,” he said.

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, sponsor of SB 5, told her colleagues she believes in her “heart of hearts” the map in the bill is the best possible provided the restraints on the redistricting process spelled out in state and federal law.

She also quoted a passage from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that explicitly states minority districts need not be proportional to the population.

“Unfortunately, this is not something you can do on emotion. We have to follow the state and federal laws,” she said. “And it does matter where they live.”

Several Black senators offered their thoughts on the vote and what it meant for the chamber and state.

“What this bill represents is a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” said Sen. Karen Peterson, D-New Orleans. “I don’t feel seen. I don’t feel equal.”

Peterson said a successful override means Black residents are “being ignored, just like my ancestors, hundreds of years later.”

Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, D-Lafayette, and others who addressed the upper chamber said Wednesday’s vote would not be the final step for congressional redistricting, pointing to at least one pending lawsuit challenging the legislation.

“My solace comes in that there’s another step in the process, and it will be in the courts,” Boudreaux said.

Edwards said he was disappointed by the vote but not surprised.

“Unfortunately, this demonstrates that the state of Louisiana, even in 2022, isn’t ready to come out of some form of supervision,” he said, referencing the state’s history with federal preclearance.

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