People line up to vote at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans in 2020.

People line up to vote at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter Elementary School in New Orleans in 2020. / AP

Updated September 28, 2023 at 5:34 PM ET

A federal appeals court has stopped the redrawing of Louisiana's map of congressional voting districts, further complicating a long-running legal fight over the voting strength of the state's Black voters.

The case is among several attempts by Republican state officials in the South to reshape how federal courts interpret protections against racial discrimination under the landmark Voting Rights Act, and its resolution could help determine the balance of power in the next Congress.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to cancel a lower court's hearing for selecting a new redistricting plan that U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick had scheduled to start on Oct. 3.

"The district court did not follow the law of the Supreme Court or this court. Its action in rushing redistricting via a court-ordered map is a clear abuse of discretion for which there is no alternative means of appeal," U.S. Circuit Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee, wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by Circuit Judge James Ho, a Trump appointee.

Circuit Judge Stephen Higginson, an Obama appointee, dissented, pointing out in a separate opinion that GOP state officials have already appealed Dick's preliminary injunction ruling. Next week, a separate panel of 5th Circuit judges is set to hear oral arguments for that appeal.

The ruling issued Thursday, which could be reviewed by the full 5th Circuit court or the U.S. Supreme Court, delays the process for creating a new congressional map to replace one that Dick found likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of Black Louisianans.

The map approved by the state's Republican-controlled legislature includes only one district out of six where Black Louisianans — who make up close to a third of the state's population — have a realistic opportunity of electing their preferred candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. Dick, however, has ruled that to get in line with the Voting Rights Act, there should be two opportunity districts for Black voters.

Given how racially polarized voting is in Louisiana, those districts would likely elect Democratic candidates, who could help Democrats take back control of the U.S. House after next year's elections.

The panel's ruling is the latest twist in a redistricting lawsuit that may end up before the Supreme Court again. GOP state officials appealed the case to the country's highest court last year with a request that, among other legal questions, asked the court to weigh in on which Louisianans of voting age should be categorized as Black when testing whether a redistricting plan dilutes the political power of Black voters.

The court allowed the map struck down by Dick to be used in last year's midterm elections while the justices reviewed both the Louisiana case and a similar congressional redistricting case out of Alabama.

The high court ultimately sent the Louisiana case back to the lower courts for review in June "in advance of the 2024 congressional elections in Louisiana."

Republican state officials have been arguing that the case should push past this preliminary stage of the lawsuit, which was interrupted last year by their request for the Supreme Court to weigh in, and move towards a trial.

In court filings, their attorneys have signaled they're preparing a novel argument to defend the state legislature-approved map. They cite the Supreme Court's recent ruling on affirmative action to argue that race-based redistricting under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act may no longer be constitutional.

Edited by Benjamin Swasey and Heidi Glenn

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