Louisiana group out to end gerrymandered districts, despite Supreme Court decision

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to sidestep two challenges to partisan gerrymandering came as a disappointment to a new group advocating for redistricting reform in Louisiana, though it won’t stop them from tackling the issue on the state level next year, ahead of the 2021 redistricting session.

Instead of ruling on the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court issued technical resolutions, sidestepping the central question in both the Wisconsin and Maryland cases: The legality of partisan efforts to shape voting districts to favor one party over another.

“I was hoping against hope they would issue a sweeping ruling, declaring partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, but they basically punted,” says Stephen Kearny, co-founder of Fair Districts Louisiana.

The Supreme Court did leave the door open to future challenges, but Kearny says that could take years.

In the meantime, Fair Districts Louisiana—a group formed last year to fight political gerrymandering—is planning to push proposals in the next legislative session to reform the state’s redistricting process. The group, says Kearny, will meet with the governor’s staff and legislators following the close of the third special session to begin crafting legislation.

Recently adopted initiatives in Ohio and California offer good examples for Louisiana to follow, Kearny adds. California has handed over the redistricting process to a citizens commission, which is a slightly more extreme route. Ohio’s new system may be more plausible for Louisiana.

“What Ohio just passed is a reform that requires any voting map to be approved by both the majority and minority parties,” Kearny says. “It forces people to work together.”

Ohio was able to pass its redistricting reform by way of a ballot initiative: a petition signed by a certain number of voters and brought to a vote on a proposed statute or constitutional amendment.

Louisiana, however, does not allow ballot initiatives so Fair Districts Louisiana and its supporters must appeal to legislators to pass reform. Kearny says the effort has a chance of gaining traction in 2018 because several lawmakers are term-limited and may be less inclined to appeal to their partisan ties.

“I think people are so fed up that we have good chance in the spring,” Kearny says. “That is, if there is a big enough uproar and cooler heads prevail in the Legislature.”

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