Louisiana Legislature More Concerned About Redistricting Lawsuits than Equity

Photo Credit: Martin Haase, Wikimedia

Louisiana Republicans have spent tens of thousands of dollars over the last several months in an attempt to avoid lawsuits while maintaining the status quo, rather than focusing on creating statewide equity during the redistricting process.

Louisiana Senate President Page Cortez and House Speaker Clay Schexnayder hired the BakerHostetler law firm for a period of three months under a $10,000 per month minimum retainer. The firm’s duty is ostensibly to provide “redistricting advice” to legislators submitting maps during the contentious process. However, only Cortez and Schexnayder are entitled to the firm’s resources and expertise – in spite of the fact that the firm is being paid with public funds and is supposedly being paid to work for the entire state Senate and House of Representatives.

In fact, state Democrats noted after an article published in the Louisiana Illuminator revealed the existence of the contract that they hadn’t even been informed the firm had been hired.

On Tuesday Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) noted during debate that she had consulted with an attorney from BakerHostetler about whether her map – which has passed the Louisiana Senate – complied with federal voting rights laws. However, Sen. Cleo Fields (D-Baton Rouge), who has filed several alternatives to Hewitt’s maps says he was never given the chance to talk to the firm’s attorneys – he wasn’t even aware they’d been hired.

“If they are going to defend Sen. Hewitt’s map and no other senators have spoken to them, who are they defending,” asked Sen. Karina Jackson (D-Monroe).

Civil rights organizations have been pushing for the Legislature to add additional majority-Black districts to the voting map, given that Black residents make up a third of Louisiana’s total population. However, so far Republican legislators have been unwilling to do so. Several civil rights groups have threatened to pursue legal challenges on the grounds that maps without additional majority-Black districts would disenfranchise the state’s Black voters and two lawsuits over redistricting have already been filed in Louisiana.

“If you were being sued wouldn’t you hire a lawyer? It’s common sense,” Cortez said. He maintains that the existing lawsuits are the main reason for hiring the firm, in spite of the fact that the firm was consulted on Hewitt’s map.

How any legal challenges will fare is currently questionable, as the US Supreme Court recently froze a lower court’s order blocking Alabama’s redrawn map of US Congressional districts. Three federal judges had previously ruled that the map was discriminatory against Black voters, but the conservative-majority US Supreme Court disagreed in a 5-4 decision.

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