The Times-Picayune reports that Governor Bobby Jindal has signed into law a new congressional and state legislative redistricting plan for Louisiana.
The state’s Legislative Black Caucus objects to the plan, claiming that it doesn’t create enough black “majority/minority” districts. The new plan creates 11 black state senate districts (up from the current 10) and 29 black house districts (up from 27). It also realigns Louisiana’s seven congressional districts into six (the state lost a seat due to population decreases) and preserves the single black district Louisiana has currently. But the Caucus claims the state plan should have provided 30 black house districts and the congressional plan should have created a second black district.
The most disturbing news in the Times-Picayune story is that the state Senate president and House speaker won’t be asking the federal court in Washington to clear the plan as nondiscriminatory under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Instead, they will submit it to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for administrative review. Christian Adams and I have been reporting for the past year about the rank politics that drives decision-making in that Division, including in the Section 5 review process. Louisiana has about as much chance of getting a fair, unbiased, and nonpartisan decision under the applicable law as the Washington Nationals have of winning the World Series.
Louisiana would be foolish to submit this plan to DOJ for administrative review instead of going straight to court. Just look at the state of Georgia’s most recent experience with the Division. Justice’s lawyers had strong policy objections to Georgia’s new statute requiring anyone registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship. But when Georgia filed suit to get preclearance for the law, the Justice Department quickly conceded it had no legal justification under Section 5 for objecting and agreed to preclear the law.
That would not have occurred if Georgia had just made an administrative submission to Justice. It was only when the Division’s lawyers knew the matter would be under the supervision of a federal court—that they would not be able to make unjustified demands on Georgia because everything they were doing would be closely watched by a federal judge (and would have to be legally justified)—that they did the right thing.
Louisianans who would like to see their redistricting plans reviewed without partisan and ideological interference should be deeply concerned about the path chosen by the Senate President and House Speaker. It leads to a political and legal minefield—one that could easily be avoided simply by going directly to federal court in D.C.