Gov. Ron DeSantis wants the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in now on the constitutionality of a North Florida congressional district.
The Governor’s office has questioned the legality of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat. The district spans from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and includes numerous Black neighborhoods in between. DeSantis notes every draft congressional map published by the Legislature in the once-a-decade reapportionment process includes an analogous district. But a proposal submitted by his office does not.
DeSantis, a military lawyer before his political career, asks the courts to weigh in now on whether the district must remain on the map.
“I seek this Court’s opinion on whether Article III, Section 20(a) of the Florida Constitution requires the retention of a district in northern Florida that connects the minority population in Jacksonville with distant and distinct minority populations (either in Leon and Gadsden counties or outside of Orlando) to ensure sufficient voting strength, even if not a majority, to elect a candidate of their choice,” DeSantis wrote.
That’s a question that speaks directly to the federal Voting Rights Act requirements to protect minority access districts, though DeSantis stresses he wants answers specifically to language in state law, specifically the phrase “diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”
After the Senate passed its own congressional map including the district, Sen. Ray Rodrigues — the Senate Reapportionment Committee chair — told press the maps were crafted with the assumption the Black minority access district needed to be protected by top-tier requirements of the law.
But DeSantis has noted he still holds a veto pen on any congressional map produced by the Legislature.
“Once presented with a congressional redistricting bill, I must decide whether to approve or veto it, and even if I take no action and the law goes into effect, I must nevertheless take care that the Constitution and laws of the state of Florida are faithfully executed,” he wrote.
He noted the Secretary of State’s office, which operates under the Governor’s auspices, must defend the final maps.
“The Department of State will also be responsible for defending any legal challenges to the new congressional redistricting map,” he wrote. “In deciding whether to exercise my veto power once the Legislature’s congressional redistricting bill is presented to me, and how best to faithfully implement the law if enacted, I now seek your ‘opinion … as to the interpretation of [a] portion of [the] constitution’ that applies to the congressional redistricting process.”
Critics of the Governor’s map, including Lawson, have said the law requires preservation of the minority access district in North Florida.
“I will ensure the people of Florida’s 5th District have the representation in Congress they rightfully deserve,” Lawson said in a statement. “My district includes a large minority and urban core, protecting minority voting access is critical to serving the needs of this area.”