Louisiana lawmakers on Friday approved a new congressional map that would create a second district with a majority of Black voters, after a federal court found that the existing map appeared to illegally undercut the power of Black voters in the state.
Given that Black voters often back Democratic candidates in the state, the new map also increases the possibility of Democrats’ taking control of a second congressional seat in Louisiana.
“It’s a powerful moment for Black voters in this state and it’s a powerful moment for history,” said Ashley K. Shelton, president of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice and one of the plaintiffs who had challenged the map.
Lawmakers in Baton Rouge also agreed to tighten the state’s raucous “jungle primary” system for federal elections and State Supreme Court races beginning in 2026, though they stopped far short of the statewide overhaul sought by Gov. Jeff Landry, the newly inaugurated Republican governor.
The whirlwind, five-day special session offered a first glimpse of how Mr. Landry, just two weeks into his term, will wield power in tandem with the Legislature’s hard-line Republican supermajority, after eight years of divided government in Louisiana. With the session beginning on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Mr. Landry took care to emphasize how much easier the legislators’ work should be by comparison.
“His was a persecution for speaking his truth, while ours is just a comfortable dialogue,” Mr. Landry told the lawmakers. “His was a mighty shove, while yours is simply a mere push of the button.”
But it became clear over a series of public debates and private negotiations that several lawmakers were unwilling to simply greenlight all of Mr. Landry’s priorities, particularly a proposal to close all primaries for political office. Critics warned that doing away entirely with the state’s current system, in which primaries are open to all candidates and voters regardless of their political affiliation, would heighten partisanship and cause confusion.
The session was prompted by more than a year of litigation and rulings last year that found that the congressional map drawn after the 2020 census violated the Voting Rights Act by having only one district with a majority of Black voters in a state where roughly a third of the population is Black.
Similar court challenges paved the way for new maps elsewhere in the South. In Alabama, a federal court ordered an independently drawn map, and in Georgia, a judge last month signed off on a new map created by the legislature.
Mr. Landry, in his previous role as the state’s attorney general, had fiercely defended the state’s original map and this week continued to warn against allowing a “heavy-handed” judge to take over. Should the map fail to pass muster with Chief Judge Shelly D. Dick, nominated under the Obama administration, it could be redrawn independently.
But Mr. Landry, now governor and facing a court order, threw his weight behind a new map that not only creates a second majority-Black district but also protects the state’s two most powerful conservatives in Washington — Speaker Mike Johnson and Representative Steve Scalise, the majority leader. The new map does undercut one Republican, Representative Garret Graves, who endorsed one of Mr. Landry’s rivals in the governor’s race.
Mr. Graves, for his part, released a statement sarcastically commenting on “the imaginative creativity” of the new map, while Mr. Johnson defended the existing map as constitutional and objected to the “unnecessary surrender of a Republican seat in Congress” in a post on social media.
Under the new map, Mr. Graves’s district would cut across the state from Baton Rouge to Shreveport and its percentage of Black voters would increase to a slim majority of about 54 percent. The existing majority-Black district, represented by Troy Carter, the lone Black Democrat from Louisiana in the House, would retain about 51 percent of Black voters.
Despite a brief effort to amend how the map divides up certain parishes after a round of private negotiations, the Legislature on Friday agreed to rally behind the map backed by Mr. Landry. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report predicted on social media that should the map take effect, the new district was “a virtually certain” Democratic gain.
Republicans focused on their desire to shield not only Mr. Johnson and Mr. Scalise and their power on a national stage, but also Representative Julia Letlow, the lone woman of the delegation and a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
The map overwhelmingly cleared the House on an 86-to-16 vote and the Senate on a 27-to-11 vote on Friday. Democrats, including Mr. Carter and other Black lawmakers, celebrated the outcome, even as they acknowledged it was not the map they would have drawn.
State Senator Glen Womack, who was the lead sponsor of the map proposal and is represented by Ms. Letlow in Washington, acknowledged at one point that “politics drove this map.”
Mr. Landry, who had set the parameters of the special session, also raised the prospect of closing the state’s primaries, which currently allow the top two contenders, regardless of party affiliation, to advance to a runoff if one does not win a majority of the vote. Only the state’s presidential primaries are currently exempt from the system.
“If you choose to join a political party, it certainly is only fair and right that you have the ability to select your party’s candidate for office without the interference of another party,” Mr. Landry told lawmakers, calling the current system “a relic of the past.”
But some questioned why such a change was necessary, considering that Mr. Landry’s own bid for governor in October was so decisive that a runoff was not needed. Others warned that it was an expensive exercise that would consolidate political power with the most hard-line voters in both parties and ostracize the hundreds of thousands of Louisiana voters who are not affiliated with a party.
“The move to a closed primary system could cost more and reduce voter choice,” said the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a nonpartisan government watchdog organization, in a statement. It added that “it’s hard to understand why legislators would want to support moving away from the system that got them elected.”
State Representative Julie Emerson, who led the bill this week, stressed that the measure was not intended to expand government or be costly, at one point saying that “elections are a very important thing that we have to pay for in this state.”
A compromise was eventually struck that would limit the change to congressional and state Supreme Court elections beginning in 2026, along with elections for the state education board and public service commission. It would also allow unaffiliated voters to vote in a party primary of their choice.
The final compromise was backed by a number of Republicans, including one of the state’s senators, John Kennedy, who said he spoke directly with Mr. Landry about how to accommodate the unaffiliated voters.
It is unclear when Mr. Landry — who celebrated passage of both measures in a video released by his office — will sign the bills into law.