NBC News reports that the Republican-controlled state government of Louisiana has defied federal requirements to draw state district lines in a way that reflects the state’s large and growing Black population. Instead, the state government is taking advantage of a change in federal racial classifications – a change intended to reflect diversity – in order to undercount Black voters.
Black population growth not translated to increased representation
As NBC reports, the Black population of Louisiana has grown while its white population is shrinking, according to US Census data. Based on these demographic changes, Black representation should be expected to increase. Yet, the Republican-controlled state legislature recently drew a new election map in which only one of the state’s six congressional districts is made up of mostly Black voters. Such an imbalance between population and representation is not only ethically suspect but also should be illegal under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits states from “diluting” the voting power of Black or other historically underrepresented minorities. Yet, despite a veto from Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and a lawsuit from parties including the NAACP, Republicans have pushed through the new map. The Supreme Court has allowed this year’s elections to be conducted under the Republican-drawn map, pushing off hearing the case until a later date.
Latest effort by Republicans and conservative Supreme Court to weaken Voting Rights Act
Although the conservative-majority Supreme Court has weakened various aspects of the Voting Rights Act, allowing states like Louisiana with a history of voting discrimination to reform their voting laws without prior approval, some elements of the act remain in effect. Specifically, the Voting Rights Act allows states that are diluting minority votes to draw “minority opportunity districts,” also known as “majority-minority districts” – these are districts where most of the population is made up of racial minorities, thus making it easier for minority candidates to be elected. Plaintiffs argue that Louisiana should have done this by creating a second majority-Black district, which would bring the total to two out of six, almost exactly in line with census data that shows that one third of the state’s population is Black.
Redefining Blackness to limit Black representation
As of 2000, the US Census allows for citizens to choose multiple racial identities to define themselves. Although this flexibility is meant to allow for greater diversity and move away from racist policies such as the “one drop rule,”Louisiana’s Republican-controlled government is attempting to use this reform against the state’s Black citizens. Specifically, Louisiana is arguing that citizens who check both “Black” and another minority status, such as Asian or Latino, should not be considered Black for the purpose of drawing district lines. This is similar to an argument made by Alabama’s government in a similar redistricting case; although Alabama eventually dropped its racial redefinition argument, Louisiana is continuing to advocate for a more limited definition of Blackness.
Although not using the racial redefinition argument, several other states, including Texas and North Carolina, have also resisted calls to create new majority-minority districts. In concert with other efforts such as restrictive voting laws, combined with conservatives in Congress and the Supreme Court who have protected these moves, Louisiana will probably not be the last state to attempt to limit the power of Black voters.