By Piper Hutchinson
LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE–Both chambers of the Legislature voted Wednesday to override Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of congressional maps that did not include a second majority Black district.
The House voted 72-31, with all Republicans and the three Independents in favor. The Senate voted 27-11 in favor.
Despite the votes, the matter is likely to be determined in court. Several lawsuits relating to Louisiana’s redistricting efforts are already pending. Multiple Black legislators expressed their confidence that the courts would rule in their favor.
“At the end of the day, I feel pretty certain that the courts will probably say we did it wrong,” Sen. Cleo Fields, a Baton Rouge Democrat, said.
Only one Democrat, Rep. Francis Thompson, of Delhi, voted to override the veto.
The override, which required a two-thirds vote in each chamber, was a rare occurrence in Louisiana.
House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez, called it a key moment in efforts by the Republican-led Legislature to stand up to Edwards, a Democrat.
“Today, the overwhelming will of the legislature was heard,” Schexnayder said in a statement. “House Bill 1 fulfills our constitutionally mandated duty to redistrict congress. It also shows true legislative independence and a clear separation of power from the executive branch.”
At a news conference, Edwards said that he was disappointed, but not surprised, at the outcome.
“I slept good last night, and I’ll sleep good tonight, because I know I did the right thing,” Edwards said.
Sen. Fields, who at one point was one of the five Black members of Congress from Louisiana, had been a strong proponent of drawing two majority Black congressional districts throughout the process.
Fields and others made the case that because a third of Louisiana’s population is Black, two of Louisiana’s six congressional districts should be majority Black instead of just one.
Black lawmakers argued that to do otherwise would violate Section Two of the federal Voting Rights Act, which forbids racial discrimination in voting practices.
Republican leaders have argued that the maps do not violate the Voting Rights Act.
During a special redistricting session in February, some Republicans also maintained that creating a second majority Black district would lower the chances of a Black candidate winning either seat if turnout among Black voters remained lower than that of white voters.
The House moved quickly Wednesday to override the veto, with just one floor speech in opposition to the override. Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, repeated many of the same arguments that advocates and legislators have been pushing since the Legislature began taking public comments on redistricting back in October.
“The fact of the matter is this body continues to disregard simple math,” Duplessis said. “This body continues to disregard the shifting demographics of this state.”
Duplessis argued that the votes violate the Voting Rights Act.
Rep. John Stefanski, the Crowley Republican who headed the House committee in charge of redistricting, pointed to the Legislature’s constitutional responsibilities on redistricting.
“The Voting Rights Act is federal law, not Louisiana Constitution,” he said.
Three Independents, Rep. Joe Marino of Gretna, Rep. Malinda White of Bogalusa and Rep. Daryl Adams of Jackson, were said in earlier news stories to be undecided.
Two Republicans, Rep. Beryl Amedee, R-Gray, and Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, voted against the redistricting bill in February, citing the splitting of St. Martin and St. Mary Parishes. Despite support for their earlier position from their congressman, U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, both voted Wednesday to override the veto.
Miguez heightened the drama by being the last person to place his vote.
As the House vote was announced, many legislators broke into applause, letting out loud cheers.
Shortly after the House voted, the Senate picked up the discussion. A series of Black legislators took the podium to oppose the override.
“I can’t help but feel what some of my ancestors might have felt as slaves,” Sen. Karen Carter Peterson said. “The Constitution ignored the fact that they were human beings. They saw them as property. And they saw us as people who could participate in our democratic process.”
Several senators spoke of their Christian faith, calling on their colleagues to consider God before making their vote.
“Have more confidence in knowing God has your back when you stand up and do the right thing,” Sen. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said. “We all have to give an account for every action and every deed that we’ve ever done. Each one of us. When that day comes, and God asks you, what would you say?”
Sen. Joseph Bouie, a New Orleans Democrat, spoke about his experience of racial discrimination.
“As a young man I lived in separate but equal society,” Bouie said, sharing the story of a time he witnessed his pregnant mother be asked to move to the back of the bus.
Federal law “lays out a mechanism that says here’s a process that ensures equitable fairness for all, but it is the responsibility of those who have been elected to ensure that we do what is right,” Bouie said.
Sen. Fields argued that the state should still be subject to preclearance. Prior to 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, multiple jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, including Louisiana, were required to have their political maps approved by the U.S. Justice Department.
This is the first redistricting cycle that Louisiana is not subject to those rules.
At the news conference, Edwards agreed that the state should still be subject to preclearance, stating that it was “obvious” that it was necessary.
The governor speculated that the Legislature succeeded in its override this year, despite failing last year to override his vetoes on two other issues, because of the nature of redistricting.
“The single most partisan thing that happens, the bill that has the most self-interest at stake, is redistricting,” Edwards said, with each party and all the legislators seeking the best position for their own election prospects.