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Court allows Louisiana to move forward with two majority-Black districts – SCOTUSblog

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Court allows Louisiana to move forward with two majority-Black districts – SCOTUSblog


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The justices ruled on Louisiana’s voting map on Wednesday. (Guyyoung1966 via Wikimedia Commons)

The Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for Louisiana to use a new congressional map, containing two majority-Black districts, in the 2024 elections. In a brief unsigned order the justices blocked a ruling by a federal court that had barred the state from using the new map on the ground that legislators had relied too heavily on race when they drew it earlier this year. The order cited an election doctrine known as the Purcell principle – the idea that courts should not change election rules during the period just before an election because of the confusion that it will cause for voters and the problems that doing so could cause for election officials. The lower court’s order will remain on hold, the court indicated, while an appeal to the Supreme Court moves forward.

Defending the 2024 map, the Louisiana secretary of state had emphasized that the legislature had created the map in the wake of a ruling by another federal court holding that an earlier map, which contained only one majority-Black district, violated the Voting Rights Act.

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The court’s three liberal justices dissented from Wednesday’s order. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan indicated only that they would have denied the requests to put the federal court’s ruling on hold. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented, explaining that in her view it is too early for Purcell to apply and there was no reason for the Supreme Court to intervene at this stage.

The dispute has its roots in a challenge by Black voters and civil rights groups to the congressional map that the Louisiana legislature drew for the 2022 elections. Although the 2020 census revealed that Black people made up approximately a third of the state’s population, in February 2022, the legislature adopted a plan, known as H.B.1, that created only one (out of six districts) majority-Black district, which stretched northwest from New Orleans to Baton Rouge.  

U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick ruled that H.B.1 likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit rejected a request from the state officials and Republican legislators defending the maps to put the judge’s decision on hold, but the Supreme Court paused the case until it issued its decision in June of last year in a similar challenge to Alabama’s congressional map.

After the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts, the 5th Circuit upheld Dick’s ruling that Louisiana likely violated the Voting Rights Act. The court of appeals gave the legislature until January 2024 to create a new plan.

In January, the legislature adopted – and Louisiana Governor Jeff Landry signed – a new map, known as S.B.8, that contained two majority-Black districts.

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Nine days later, a group of 12 white voters went to a different federal court, where they argued that S.B.8 is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander – that is, it sorted voters based primarily on their race.

On April 30, a divided three-judge district court barred the state from using S.B.8 in future elections, holding that legislators had relied too heavily on race in drawing the map. Louisiana’s secretary of state indicated that May 15 would be the last day to adopt a new map for the 2024 elections, but the district court set a schedule that would lead to a new map by June 4.

Both Louisiana Secretary of State Nancy Landry (who is not related to Gov. Jeff Landry) and the Black voters and civil rights groups who had challenged H.B.1 came to the Supreme Court earlier this month, asking the justices to put on hold the district court’s order prohibiting the use of S.B.8, as well as the proceedings to come up with a new map.

Landry told the Supreme Court that race was not the primary factor behind the state’s decision to enact S.B.8. Instead, she wrote, the legislature was motivated by the court orders indicating that the state would likely violate the Voting Rights Act unless two of the six congressional districts were majority Black. Turning those rulings “back on the Legislature would be a wholly unfair game of gotcha that this Court has never endorsed.”

The H.B.1 challengers echoed Landry’s contention, calling the district court’s order barring the state from using the 2024 map an “aggressive incursion on state sovereignty” that leaves the state “trapped between the competing hazards of liability under the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause,” which prohibits racial gerrymandering.  

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The legislature ultimately chose the 2024 map, Landry and the H.B.1 challengers contended, over other proposed versions because S.B.8 achieves the legislature’s political goals – specifically, protecting the districts of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, and Rep. Julia Letlow at the expense of Rep. Garret Graves, who had supported Landry’s opponent.  

Landry urged the justices to act by May 15, calling the dispute a “textbook case” for a stay of the lower court’s decision under the Purcell principle. “Even marginally moving that date,” Landry suggested, “will result in chaos down the line as other deadlines are blown and election officials struggle to complete their tasks within further compressed timelines.” Otherwise, Landry told the court, the only map that the state would be able to use “and still avoid election case” is the H.B.1 map.  

The voters challenging S.B.8 countered that the district court’s ruling barring the state from using S.B.8 was a “simple and straightforward application of the law to the facts.” The state’s overriding goal in drawing the map was to create two majority-Black districts, they maintained, so that it could avoid additional litigation over H.B.1. The secretary of state’s insistence that the legislature drew the two majority-Black districts to comply with the court orders rings hollow, the S.B.8 challengers argued, because the district court never issued a final ruling on whether “the VRA actually required a second majority-Black district in the State — much less on whether District 6 stretching from the Northwest to Southeast corners of the State could remedy any alleged violation.”

The S.B.8 challengers also pushed back against the suggestion that there was any need for the Supreme Court to put the district court’s order on hold, much less do so quickly. The district court is already slated to issue a new map by June 4, they noted, and the May 15 deadline posited by the secretary of state, they say, “is simply an invention for this litigation”: Both the secretary of state and the state told the Supreme Court last year that the election could go forward as long as a map was in place by late May. Moreover, they added, “despite the State’s oddly shrill and last-minute warnings of chaos, this leaves ample time” to adopt a new map and take the necessary steps “before November’s primary.”

In its brief order, the majority cited the Purcell principle, signaling that it was putting the April 30 decision by the district court on hold because of the looming 2024 elections. But in her dissent, Jackson contended that “Purcell has no role to play here. There is little risk of voter confusion from a new map being imposed this far out from the November election,” she suggested. And she noted that the justices “have often denied stays of redistricting orders issued as close or closer to an election.”

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“Rather than wading in now,” Jackson continued, she “would have let the District Court’s remedial process run its course before considering whether our emergency intervention was warranted.”

This article was originally published at Howe on the Court. 



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Louisiana

Louisiana legislature approves bill that would punish the possession of abortion pills without a prescription with hefty fines and jail time

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Louisiana legislature approves bill that would punish the possession of abortion pills without a prescription with hefty fines and jail time


Two abortion-inducing drugs could soon be reclassified as controlled and dangerous substances in Louisiana under a first-of-its-kind bill that received final legislative passage Thursday and is expected to be signed into law by the governor.

Supporters of the reclassification of mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly known as “abortion pills,” say it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions, though they cited only one example of that happening, in the state of Texas. Numerous doctors, meanwhile, have said it will make it harder for them to prescribe the medicines, which they also use for other important reproductive health care needs.

Passage of the bill comes as both abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone. The justices did not appear ready to limit access to the drug on the day they heard arguments.

The GOP-dominated Legislature’s push to reclassify mifepristone and misoprostol could possibly open the door for other Republican states with abortion bans that are seeking tighter restrictions on the drugs. Louisiana currently has a near-total abortion ban in place, applying both to surgical and medical abortions.

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Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion, in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills by placing them on the list of Schedule IV drugs under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, and the drugs would have to be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics. Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time. Language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant women who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.

More than 200 doctors in the state signed a letter to lawmakers warning that the measure could produce a “barrier to physicians’ ease of prescribing appropriate treatment” and cause unnecessary fear and confusion among both patients and doctors. The physicians warn that any delay to obtaining the drugs could lead to worsening outcomes in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

“This goes too far. We have not properly vetted this with the health care community and I believe it’s going to lead to further harm down the road,” said Democratic Sen. Royce Duplessis, who voted against the measure. “There’s a reason we rank at the bottom in terms of maternal health outcomes, and this is why.”

The reclassification of the two drugs is contained in an amendment to a bill originating in the Senate that would create the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud.” Lawmakers in the Senate unanimously supported the original legislation a month ago. Later, bill sponsor Sen. Thomas Pressly pushed for the amendment to reclassify the drugs.

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Pressly said both the bill and the amendment were motivated by what happened to his sister Catherine Herring of Texas. In 2022, Herring’s husband slipped her seven misoprostol pills in an effort to induce an abortion without her knowledge or consent.

There have been several cases similar to Herring’s reported by news outlets over the past 15 years, though none of those cited were in Louisiana.

“The purpose of bringing this legislation is certainly not to prevent these drugs from being used for legitimate health care purposes,” Pressly said. “I am simply trying to put safeguards and guardrails in place to keep bad actors from getting these medications.”

The Senate voted 29-7, mainly along party lines, to pass the legislation. In the 39-person Senate there are only five women, all of whom voted in favor of the bill.

In addition to inducing abortions, mifepristone and misoprostol have other common uses, such as treating miscarriages, inducing labor and stopping hemorrhaging.

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Mifepristone was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 after federal regulators deemed it safe and effective for ending early pregnancies. It’s used in combination with misoprostol, which the FDA has separately approved to treat stomach ulcers.

The drugs are not classified as controlled substances by the federal government because regulators do not view them as carrying a significant risk of misuse. The federal Controlled Substances Act restricts the use and distribution of prescription medications such as opioids, amphetamines, sleeping aids and other drugs that carry the risk of addiction and overdose.

Abortion opponents and conservative Republicans both inside and outside the state have applauded the Louisiana bill. Conversely, the move has been strongly criticized by Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who in a social media post described it as “absolutely unconscionable.”

The Louisiana legislation now heads to the desk of conservative Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. The governor, who was backed by former President Donald Trump during last year’s gubernatorial election, has indicated his support for the measure, remarking in a recent post on X, “You know you’re doing something right when @KamalaHarris criticizes you.”

Landry’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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A recent survey found that thousands of women in states with abortion bans or restrictions are receiving abortion pills in the mail from states that have laws protecting prescribers. The survey did not specify how many of those cases were in Louisiana.

Louisiana has a near-total abortion ban in place, which applies both to medical and surgical abortions. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the mother if she continues the pregnancy or in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies, when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.

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Why was Southwest Louisiana not included in State of Emergency following severe storms?

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Why was Southwest Louisiana not included in State of Emergency following severe storms?


LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) – A state of emergency was issued earlier this week for several parishes across the state.

The emergency declaration covers the period of May 14-17 and allows the state to assist parishes with damage.

The parishes included are St. Martin, Iberville, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, and St. James parishes, but no Southwest Louisiana parishes.

A week ago, an EF-2 tornado traveled through Sulphur while an EF-1 struck Westlake then moved into Lake Charles – leaving a clear path of destruction behind.

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One Sulphur resident who had a tree fall on her trailer says she is frustrated but not surprised that Calcasieu Parish was not part of the declaration. She feels Southwest Louisiana is often left behind – and this time around is no exception.

The mayors of Lake Charles, Sulphur and Westlake each expressed state or federal help would be welcomed for repairs and debris cleanup.

Westlake Mayor Hal McMillin told us he is grateful no one in our area was hurt during the storms – but still emphasizes the damage that occurred was not minor.

“There were a number of trees, houses, our church. They all took damage. It was a big event for Westlake,” said McMillin.

McMillin says he even reached out to state representatives hoping to get answers.

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“Anytime you have a tornado like that that hits, you look for the state and federal people to come to your aid, and we’re hoping that we can get this declared as some type of disaster so we can have some relief. And the state and federal folks could come in and help the people that had damage as well as help the city be reimbursed for the things we did,” McMillin said.

So what goes into the decision to declare a state of emergency?

Emergency Preparedness Director Jared Maze says there is a monetary threshold a parish must meet to be included.

“We sent out this flyer so that people can actually assess their own damage to their house, which is disaster.la.gov, and they can send in pictures and then experts will be able to review those and determine if it meets a certain dollar factor for public assistance which is typically around a million dollars,” Maze said.

Maze explains that technically the decision to proceed with the declaration is still under review as only 15 people in our area submitted reports of their damage.

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Maze said he hopes that by spreading the word about the website – more people will report their damage – moving our parishes closer to the state of emergency declaration – especially ahead of hurricane season.

You can visit the website by clicking here or by scanning the QR code below.

Why was Southwest Louisiana not included in State of Emergency following severe storms?(GOHSEP)



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Louisiana Legislature approves bill classifying abortion pills as controlled dangerous substances

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Louisiana Legislature approves bill classifying abortion pills as controlled dangerous substances


BATON ROUGE, La. — Two abortion-inducing drugs could soon be reclassified as controlled and dangerous substances in Louisiana under a first-of-its-kind bill that received final legislative passage Thursday and is expected to be signed into law by the governor.

Supporters of the reclassification of mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly known as “abortion pills,” say it would protect expectant mothers from coerced abortions. Numerous doctors, meanwhile, have said it will make it harder for them to prescribe the medicines that they use for other important reproductive health care needs, and could delay treatment.

Passage of the bill comes as both abortion rights advocates and abortion opponents await a final decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on an effort to restrict access to mifepristone. The justices did not appear ready to limit access to the drug on the day they heard arguments.

The GOP-dominated Legislature’s push to reclassify mifepristone and misoprostol could possibly open the door for other Republican states with abortion bans that are seeking tighter restrictions on the drugs. Louisiana currently has a near-total abortion ban in place, applying both to surgical and medical abortions.

Advertisement

Current Louisiana law already requires a prescription for both drugs and makes it a crime to use them to induce an abortion in most cases. The bill would make it harder to obtain the pills by placing it on the list of Schedule IV drugs under the state’s Uniform Controlled Dangerous Substances Law.

The classification would require doctors to have a specific license to prescribe the drugs, which would be stored in certain facilities that in some cases could end up being located far from rural clinics. Knowingly possessing the drugs without a valid prescription would carry a punishment including hefty fines and jail time.

More than 200 doctors in the state signed a letter to lawmakers warning that it could produce a “barrier to physicians’ ease of prescribing appropriate treatment” and cause unnecessary fear and confusion among both patients and doctors. The physicians warn that any delay to obtaining the drugs could lead to worsening outcomes in a state that has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country.

“This goes too far. We have not properly vetted this with the health care community and I believe it’s going to lead to further harm down the road,” said state Sen. Royce Duplessis, a Democrat who opposes the measure. “There’s a reason we rank at the bottom in terms of maternal health outcomes, and this is why.”

Supporters say people would be prevented from unlawfully using the pills, though language in the bill appears to carve out protections for pregnant woman who obtain the drug without a prescription for their own consumption.

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The reclassification of the two drugs in Louisiana is an amendment to a bill originating in the Senate that would create the crime of “coerced criminal abortion by means of fraud.” The sister of Republican state Sen. Thomas Pressly, who authored the bill, has shared her own story, of her husband slipping her abortion-inducing drugs without her knowledge or consent.

“The purpose of bringing this legislation is certainly not to prevent these drugs from being used for legitimate health care purposes,” Senator Pressley said. “I am simply trying to put safeguards and guardrails in place to keep bad actors from getting these medications.”

The Senate voted 29-7, mainly along party lines, to pass the legislation. In the 39-person Senate there are only five women, all of whom voted in favor of the bill.

In addition to inducing abortions, mifepristone and misoprostol have other common uses, such as treating miscarriages, inducing labor and stopping hemorrhaging.

Mifepristone was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 after federal regulators deemed it safe and effective for ending early pregnancies. It’s used in combination with misoprostol, which the FDA has separately approved to treat stomach ulcers.

Advertisement

The drugs are not classified as controlled substances by the federal government because regulators do not view them as carrying a significant risk of misuse. The federal Controlled Substances Act restricts the use and distribution of prescription medications such as opioids, amphetamines, sleeping aids and other drugs that carry the risk of addiction and overdose.

Abortion opponents and conservative Republicans both inside and outside the state have applauded the Louisiana bill. Conversely, the move has been strongly criticized by Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who in a social media post described it as “absolutely unconscionable.”

The Louisiana legislation now heads to the desk of conservative Republican Gov. Jeff Landry. The governor, who was backed by former President Donald Trump during last year’s gubernatorial election, has indicated his support for the measure, remarking in a recent post on X, “You know you’re doing something right when @KamalaHarris criticizes you.”

Landry’s office did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

A recent survey found that thousands of women in states with abortion bans or restrictions are receiving abortion pills in the mail from states that have laws protecting prescribers. The survey did not specify how many of those cases were in Louisiana.

Advertisement

Louisiana has a near-total abortion ban in place, which applies both to medical and surgical abortions. The only exceptions to the ban are if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the mother if she continues the pregnancy or in the case of “medically futile” pregnancies, when the fetus has a fatal abnormality.

Currently, 14 states are enforcing bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with limited exceptions.

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.



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