La.’s Black-Majority Seat Could Become Less Black

Christopher Tidmore, Louisiana Weekly, March 30, 2009 1:39 pm

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana is poised to loose one of its current congressional districts after the 2010 Census. Due to the fact that the storm more proportionally depopulated the New Orleans portions of the Second Congressional District, one conservative political organization has suggested that the current Black Majority District should be drawn into the Caucasian swing seat currently held by Charlie Melançon (D-Napoleonville).

Louisiana Family Forum Action President Gene Mills introduced the plan to legislators and media outlets throughout Louisiana on Thursday, March 19, explaining that the proposal is “a starting point for discussion on how the congressional lines should be re-drawn.”

LFF Action is a conservative, yet non-partisan tax exempt 501c3 organization, but Mills has close relationships with senior Republicans like Senator David Vitter and GOP Chairman Roger Villere. The plan as constituted would combine the seat of a sitting Democratic Congressman with a Black-majority district. According to the plan, the more Caucasian and conservative parts of the district would be drawn into surrounding seats currently held by Republicans Charles Boustany, Bill Cassidy, and Steve Scalise.

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More specifically, it would lower the percentage of African-American registration from the Second District’s estimated 62 percent to just greater than 50 percent. Mills defends the plan by pointing out that Hurricane Katrina already lowered the percentages of not only minority registration but basic population in the flooded areas.

“The remaining five districts remain basically unchanged and give continuity to Louisiana’s historical districts, while maintaining a majority ‘minority district’,” he said.

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Those Fourth and Fifth Congressional districts are currently held by Republican Congressmen Rodney Alexander and John Fleming.

Previously, the U.S. Justice Department prevented states from diluting minority voting strength under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. However, in a recent 5-4 Supreme Court ruling Bartlett v. Strickland, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the landmark civil rights legislation doesn’t require states to draw “crossover” districts, which would include enough voters who would vote for minority candidates to allow the minority bloc to elect a minority candidate.

Commentators immediately suggested that this could influence the redistricting process in Louisiana, the only former “Jim Crow” state likely to lose a Congressional district. Not only would merging the 2nd and 3rd Districts provide Democrat Charlie Melançon an easier seat in which to win re-election, providing a reason for white Democrats to support the plan, it would also create a swing seat with a low enough African-American political registration that current GOP incumbent Joseph Cao might have an outside chance at re-election in 2012.

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The Re-districting proposal and map can be accessed on the web at www.lafamilyforum.org /redistrict.

[Editor’s Note: An earlier story on the Supreme Court’s ruling concerning “minority” voting rights can be read here.]

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