The Subtle and Vital Effects of Keeping Louisiana’s Congressional Map

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This month, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ordered that the state’s post-census congressional maps be redrawn to include an additional seat likely to be represented by a black lawmaker. The math is not very complicated: about a third of the state’s population is black and there will be six seats in the next Congress. Designing a map that packs a district with a third of the adult black population (as the state’s proposed map did) while ensuring that no other electorate in the district is even a fifth black wasn’t going to cut it.

After all, Dick wrote in his decision, Louisiana has a history of discrimination that might suggest that this curtailment of black political power was intentional. “Louisiana’s history of discrimination has been recognized by other federal courts,” she wrote, later adding that “evidence of Louisiana’s long and continuing history of discrimination related in the vote weigh heavily in favor of the plaintiffs”.

New cards have been ordered. Then on Tuesday they were blocked by the Supreme Court. Similar to a case in Alabama this year, the court determined that the proposed cards could be used for the 2022 midterm cycle.

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Heading into this year’s election, the Democratic majority in the House is among the narrowest in history. A six-seat flip and Republicans take control of the chamber, which seems likely to happen given historical trends and polls, including President Biden’s abysmal endorsement. This decision to keep the card disadvantageous to black Louisianans essentially means that Republican Labor is an easier seat.

The new lines from Congress upheld by the Supreme Court look like this. Five districts have partisan leanings between 23 and 43 points for Republicans, as measured by FiveThirtyEight. The sixth is leaning Democratic by 56 points.

If we overlay where black adult Louisianans live, you can see why the boundaries of this Sixth District were drawn the way they were. (These maps, using data from the invaluable Districtr site, extend the borders into the ocean.) This district heads west from New Orleans, then north across a thin strip of land to include a large part of the black population of Baton Rouge.

You can see this thin ribbon connecting the two neighborhood segments below. A bit of blue, surrounded by the R+23 Sixth District.

Just under 33% of black adults in Louisiana live in the 2nd blue arrondissement. Two-thirds live outside. Including pockets in each of the other districts – pockets that didn’t have the courtesy of being connected to thin regions to create a denser Black House headquarters.

As Dick wrote, “the weight of evidence presented shows that two majority-minority constituencies that satisfy [legal mandates] and respecting traditional redistricting principles can be learned in Louisiana. They just weren’t.

The effect is to push most black Louisianans into districts that will almost certainly be won by Republicans — although black Louisianans are heavily Democratic. Using data from the L2 company, which models the likely race of voters in the state, we can see how skewed the effect of the new map is on black people.

Half of the state’s white voter pool is Republican; more than 90% of whites will live in neighborhoods likely to be won by Republicans. Only 1 in 40 black Louisianans are Republicans, but black people have a two-in-one chance of living in a district with a Republican congressman.

It is clearly not true that everyone in America can live in a district where elected leaders match their political orientation. This is why we have elections. This is the goal of democracy. Most of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 live in states won by President Biden.

The problem here is different. Simply put, the way race and party overlap means diluting black voter density in Louisiana helps Republicans in the state. The lines as drawn were almost certainly written specifically to take advantage of the correlation between black residents and Democrats: pack black residents into the 2nd district and split them into the other five and you not only consolidate the white electorate but also the Republican. In every district except the 2nd, the number of white adults is at least 1.9 times greater than the number of blacks. Almost double. In a state where whites are more than twice as likely to be Republicans.

In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, legislation that for decades helped prevent similar uses of race to affect political power. At the time, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote that the law’s limits were no longer necessary because they had been “tremendously successful in addressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.” As Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted, this success was best used as a reason to keep the VRA provisions, not abandon them. Although no bounded vote on Louisiana’s decision was provided by the court, Roberts was not among those who opposed it.

That’s why telling people to change the system by voting often rings hollow. The system is smart enough to know how to reshape the power the vote is supposed to offer.

Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.


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