With congressional map in limbo, AG Murrill’s fallback plan keeps five white districts

Solicitor General Liz Murrill speaks to the press Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, after qualifying for the attorney general’s race at the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge.
Solicitor General Liz Murrill speaks to the press Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, after qualifying for the attorney general’s race at the Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge.
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Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill. (Matthew Perschall for Louisiana Illuminator)

Republican Attorney General Liz Murrill said she would prefer to implement a Louisiana congressional map approved in 2022 with only one majority-Black district — one that a federal court has already rejected —  if a new version remains tied up in litigation.

Last week, a three-judge panel from the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the new map lawmakers created in a January special session, siding with a group of white voters who argued the boundaries in Senate Bill 8 were racially gerrymandered against them because it included a second majority-Black district at the insistence of GOP Gov. Jeff Landry.

The parties in the lawsuit were scheduled for a conference with the court Monday to chart a path forward. Secretary of State Nancy Landry, a Republican who is not related to the governor, has said she needs a new map by May 15 for it to be used in the November congressional elections. One possibility is a court-imposed map, but another is to revert to the 2022 map, contained in House Bill 1, that could disenfranchise Black voters.

“The Secretary of State has consistently said May 15 is a hard, real deadline,” Murrill said in a press release Monday afternoon. “Yet the (5th Circuit) Panel seems inclined toward creating more chaos in our Congressional elections in a presidential election year. While we will not have a definitive ruling for another day at least, we appear to be heading to the Supreme Court this week.

“My position has been clear: SB8 is the current will of the Legislature and should be implemented,” she added. “If that isn’t an option, for whatever reason, then HB1 from the 2022 session, which is what’s currently loaded in the system, should remain in place while this matter goes up to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court needs to provide instructions to State Legislatures so States are not on a perpetual federal litigation roller coaster over good faith efforts at redistricting. It’s confusing to voters, it’s expensive for taxpayers, and it’s inconsistent with the federal Constitution.”

The 2022 map was the subject of voting rights litigation and ruled invalid by a federal judge who found it too was racially gerrymandered — against Black voters. 

Before becoming governor, Jeff Landry, as attorney general, defended the previous map in court alongside Murrill, his solicitor general at the time. But after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June against a similar map in Alabama, he took a different route as governor. Wanting to end the 2022 litigation, Jeff Landry urged the Republican-majority Legislature to draw a map with a second Black district and called lawmakers into a five-day redistricting session in January. 

The new map would have effectively ended the 2022 case, but a group of white voters filed a lawsuit, arguing lawmakers focused primarily on race when adopting Senate Bill 8. 

While Jeff Landry and Republican allies argued that politics was the predominant factor in the drafting of the new map, two of the three judges found race was the true motivator. Partisan gerrymandering remains legal in the United States, but racial gerrymandering is not. The two judges who sided with the white plaintiffs are appointees of former President Donald Trump, while the dissenter was a nominee of former President Bill Clinton.  

The result is a situation in which Murrill is being asked to embrace and defend a legal position she spent two years attacking at virtually every level of the federal judiciary. And it’s a situation she and others foresaw during the January special session. 

During a Jan. 15 committee hearing, Murrill voiced her disappointment with Gov. Landry’s decision to give up on the 2022 case and shared other thoughts on having to defend a map with a second majority-Black district. She told lawmakers she would defend any map they drew but repeatedly signaled that she would prefer to continue the 2022 case defending the old map with five majority-white districts.

“I just think that we should have a trial on the merits,” Murrill told lawmakers. “I have argued that in court. I signed off on those pleadings. I still believe that that is true.”

Having to switch sides also means Murrill is defending a politically liberal cause that could help Democrats gain a seat in the U.S. House where Republicans hold a perilously slim majority.

The post With congressional map in limbo, AG Murrill’s fallback plan keeps five white districts appeared first on Louisiana Illuminator.