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Supreme Court Voting Rights Order Gives Democrats New Hope to Take House

Democrats’ hopes of taking back control of the House got a little brighter Monday, with the Supreme Court issuing an order that is expected to force red-state Louisiana to redraw congressional districts to create another majority-Black district.

The order – which sends the case back to a lower court – was expected, essentially serving as an extension of a decision the justices arrived at earlier this year in a similar, but separate, matter pertaining to voting rights. In the earlier case, the Supreme Court determined that a GOP-drawn congressional map in Alabama diluted the voting power of Blacks, who make up about 27% of the state’s population but have just a single majority-Black district out of the state’s seven congressional districts.

Monday’s ruling didn’t weigh in on the specific merits of the Louisiana case itself but merely lifted a stay that took effect when the Supreme Court expressed its interest in the case – thus keeping the gerrymandered maps in place. Before that, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals planned an expedited ruling and had declined in the meantime to stop a federal district judge’s decision that the map violated the Voting Rights Act by dividing up Black voters among other, majority white districts.

Voting rights activists, who had worried the Supreme Court would further weaken the Voting Rights Act, celebrated the order.

“I sued the state of Louisiana for what I knew was a racist unfair congressional map. I’m pleased to see the SCOTUS side on justice and let our case prevail,” Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Davante Lewis tweeted. “It’s time for Louisiana to see and hear Black people in this state.”

While the final action of the circuit court is not certain, the precedent set by the Supreme Court ruling in the Alabama case means a new, Black-majority district in Louisiana is very likely, Michael Li, a redistricting and voting rights expert with the Brennan Center, tweeted.

Louisiana officials held 2022 congressional elections with the current map, with the court allowing the GOP-drawn maps to stay in place despite complaints they violated the Voting Rights Act. Neither Monday’s order nor the Alabama decision addressed why the high court changed its legal tune.

With no noted dissents, the high court Monday said its original decision to put the case on its docket was “improvidently granted.” Lifting its earlier stay, the court said, “will allow the matter to proceed before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for review in the ordinary course and in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana.”

State officials in Louisiana were sued last year over the map, which was approved by a Republican-run legislature that overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto. That map has just a single majority-Black district, although African Americans make up about a third of the state’s population.

The Supreme Court’s order Monday gave Democrats another good chance of picking up a seat in a chamber where Republicans hold a razor-thin, five-seat majority, with proponents encouraged that a second majority Black district will be drawn in a new map. Seizing control of the House is especially critical for Democrats, whose Senate majority is very much imperiled next year, given the number of Democratic-held seats up for grabs.

The Supreme Court ruling in Louisiana likely will result in another Democratic-held congressional seat in the Bayou State, where the six-member congressional delegation now includes just a single Democrat. A redrawing of the Alabama district lines is also expected to deliver another Democrat to Congress.

In Wisconsin, the upset win of state Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz in May, providing a liberal majority on the court for the first time in 15 years, has Democrats encouraged about drawing a new congressional map that could bring one or more Democrats to Congress.

New York Democrats could take back several competitive seats after Republicans scored upset wins in those districts in 2022. Democratic critics complain their party leaders took those seats for granted in 2022 and can re-take them if more effort is put in during the current election cycle.