A panel of federal judges Monday shot down U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown‘s challenge of Florida’s congressional redistricting.
In a 26-page order, the three judges said Brown had “not proven (her) case and that defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor.”
The defendants include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others who last year forced a redrawing of Florida’s congressional district map.
Brown had asked the court to set aside her redrawn seat, the 5th Congressional District. The Jacksonville Democrat has said her new district violates federal voting laws by cutting down the influence of minority voters.
Instead, the judges rejected her request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the new district. But because their order “resolved the merits of this case,” the case is essentially over.
“Florida’s deadline for candidates to file papers to run for office in the upcoming election is June 24, 2016,” they wrote. “In order to allow time for any appeal of our order, we feel a responsibility to rule on the pending case now.”
“I am extremely disappointed in today’s ruling,” Brown said in a statement. “I am currently reviewing it with my attorneys, and will issue a longer, formal statement tomorrow (Tuesday).”
The decision also affects the 2nd Congressional District, which had been cannibalized to make the new 5th. Changes to the 2nd would remain unaffected, meaning it would become a decidedly Republican-leaning district.
The seat used to be a north-south configuration that meandered from Jacksonville through Gainesville to Sanford. Now it’s an east-west district that stretches from Jacksonville through Tallahassee into predominantly black Gadsden County.
She argued the new district “dilut(es) the ability of black voters to elect congressional representatives of their choice” and that the new district “was redrawn with the intent to discriminate against black citizens.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, fellow U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Robin Rosenbaum disagreed, ruling against Brown.
They agreed with the Florida Supreme Court, which ultimately approved the current redrawn map, that “the east-west configuration ‘does not diminish the ability of black voters to elect a candidate of choice.’ “
Brown’s old district was 50.1 percent black voters. The new one is 45.8 percent white, 45.1 percent black (including black Hispanic individuals), 5.5 percent non-black Hispanic, and 3.6 percent other, according to Monday’s order.
The judges also highlighted a voting expert’s analysis that “demonstrates the black community’s candidate of choice would have prevailed handily in either the east-west or north-south configurations,” giving the lie to Brown’s dilution assertion.
Further, Brown didn’t show that “white-bloc voting regularly defeats black-preferred candidates” and was wrong that “the large number of nonvoting prisoners (in the new district) undermines the ability of blacks to elect their candidate of choice.”
“Indeed, as the Florida Supreme Court recognized, Congresswoman Brown has been continuously elected despite black (voters’) percentages dropping as low as 42.7” percent, the judges said. Brown has been in Congress for 23 years.
The first reaction to the order came from Congresswoman Gwen Graham, the first-term Democrat who now holds the 2nd District.
She was hoping an overturning of the 5th District would have restored her formerly Democratic-leaning seat. Largely Democratic Leon County was chopped in two under the new lines.
“I’m disappointed the 2nd Congressional District will be transformed from a fair, moderate district into two extreme partisan districts,” Graham said in a statement.
“Dividing Tallahassee hurts North Florida and our community,” she added. “Now that the lengthy legal challenges to the maps have been completed, I will make a decision as to what’s next as soon as possible. Though the maps may have changed, my commitment to public service has not.”
The League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs successfully argued that the map OK’d by state lawmakers after the last census was gerrymandered, or unconstitutionally favored Republican incumbents and challengers.
The new map of the state’s 27 congressional districts, approved by the Florida Supreme Court, increases the voting rights of blacks on the whole across the state, their attorneys have said. They had not issued any comment by late Monday.
Jim Rosica (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the Florida Legislature, state agencies and courts from Tallahassee. FloridaPolitics.com writers Ryan Ray and A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.