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No more majority-black congressional districts in Louisiana?

We’re now starting to get an idea of the impact that the recent hurricanes will have on Louisiana, particularly in terms of Congressional representation. It may mean it’s like déjà vu all over again.

Estimates prior to the disasters had the state at the precipice of losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after 2010. There’s no more guesswork now – it’s gone. Louisiana had the third weakest population growth of all states from 2000-03, the weakest of the sunbelt states, at 0.6 percent far below America’s 3.3 percent.

However, more importantly is how the partisan balance gets affected by all of this. It looks as if the Democrat base of poor blacks will be disproportionately reduced, as some of the more industrious of the bunch find better opportunity in their new locales, while some of the less motivated will not want to spend resources to return since they can just as easily can live off government assistance, perhaps even more lucratively, where they sit right now.

No doubt this dynamic explains U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson’s prediction that as 2010 approaches New Orleans will only contain a population of 35-40 percent black. At his predicted level of 375,000 in the city, that means he thinks at the high end of his guess that less than half of the roughly 323,000 blacks living in the city will return.

If 173,000 blacks disappear from the area, this has tremendous partisan consequences. That means one-eighth of the state’s black population goes away, and their proportion of the overall population falls to 27 percent. That would be enough to have a majority-black House district, but one that would have to be drawn in a very convoluted fashion. Orleans as a whole could only make up about half such a district, and it would have to draw in about 225,000 other blacks to make the majority black district.

There’s only one way to accomplish that – draw a crazy-looking district that snakes through parts of Orleans Parish, runs up Interstate 10, dipping into certain parts of Jefferson Parish, which then curls around the edges of Baton Rouge to gulp in its northern part, somehow avoiding as many whites as possible. It’s the only way to get a large enough number of blacks.

Yet I’m not sure it can even be done. Recall the Louisiana redistricting cases of the 1990s where the U.S. Supreme Court declared such bizarre-shaped districts drawn almost exclusively to form a majority-minority district were unconstitutional. Almost certainly such a district would run afoul of this jurisprudence, so even a legislature of majority Democrats and/or a Democrat governor may not wish to dare the Court.

That being the case, this means the state would have no majority-black districts – a situation sure to draw immense criticism from blacks and especially Democrats, with blacks spread out among all districts leading to an anticipated Republican sweep of all six remaining House seats. The political firestorm over this will make Katrina and Rita look like nothing.

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