That district, the Second Congressional District, is more than 60 percent Black and snakes along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Much of it is surrounded by the Sixth District, which is one-third Black.
Judge Shelly D. Dick of the Federal District Court in Baton Rouge found that the map violated the Voting Rights Act by packing Black voters into a single district and then splitting the remaining ones among the five other districts. Judge Dick, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, ordered the Legislature to produce a revised map.
A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit refused to stay Judge Dick’s order while an appeal moved forward, though it said her opinion “was not without weaknesses.” The unsigned opinion was joined by Judge Jerry E. Smith, appointed by President Ronald Reagan; Judge Stephen A. Higginson, appointed by Mr. Obama; and Judge Don R. Willett, appointed by President Donald J. Trump.
A different panel of the appeals court had been scheduled to hear arguments in the case on July 8.
In the Alabama case, the justices in February temporarily blocked a voting map that would have added a second congressional district in which Black voters made up a majority in that state. The court is set to hear arguments in the case, Merrill v. Milligan, when the justices return to the bench in October.
How U.S. Redistricting Works
What is redistricting? It’s the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional and state legislative districts. It happens every 10 years, after the census, to reflect changes in population.
How does it work? The census dictates how many seats in Congress each state will get. Mapmakers then work to ensure that a state’s districts all have roughly the same number of residents, to ensure equal representation in the House.
Who draws the new maps? Each state has its own process. Eleven states leave the mapmaking to an outside panel. But most — 39 states — have state lawmakers draw the new maps for Congress.
If state legislators can draw their own districts, won’t they be biased? Yes. Partisan mapmakers often move district lines — subtly or egregiously — to cluster voters in a way that advances a political goal. This is called gerrymandering.
Is gerrymandering legal? Yes and no. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts have no role to play in blocking partisan gerrymanders. However, the court left intact parts of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit racial or ethnic gerrymandering.
In earlier decisions, the Supreme Court effectively gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which had required federal approval of changes to state and local voting laws in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination, and cut back on Section 2 of the law, limiting the ability of minority groups to challenge voting restrictions.
The cases from Louisiana and Alabama also concern Section 2, but in the context of redistricting.
Section 2 bars any voting procedure that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race.” That happens, the provision goes on, when, “based on the totality of circumstances,” racial minorities “have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”