Florida Supreme Court won’t offer early opinion on Gov. DeSantis’ congressional map

The Governor wants to know if CD 5 has to appear on a new map, but justices say there's no easy answer.

The Florida Supreme Court won’t weigh in early on whether a proposed congressional map should preserve Florida’s 5th Congressional District in North Florida.

A week after Gov. Ron DeSantis asked the court to provide an advisory opinion, justices denied the request. All five justices concurred that the Governor’s request wasn’t narrow enough and involved complex matters of law.

“The scope of the Governor’s request is broad and contains multiple questions that implicate complex federal and state constitutional matters and precedents interpreting the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the decision reads.

DeSantis specifically asked if CD 5 needed to be preserved in some fashion on any new map of the state’s now-28 congressional jurisdictions.

As the Florida Legislature undergoes a once-a-decade redistricting process for the state’s political boundaries, counsel early on advised lawmakers there could be no diminishment of minority communities’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

All draft proposals for congressional maps produced thus far by the Legislature have included some form of CD 5, treating it as a minority access seat. U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat now representing the district, also has said the district enjoys legal protections.

“I will ensure the people of Florida’s 5th District have the representation in Congress they rightfully deserve,” Lawson said. “My district includes a large minority and urban core, protecting minority voting access is critical to serving the needs of this area.”

But a map submitted by DeSantis’ office (P 0079) includes no district with a configuration similar to CD 5, which now stretches from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

DeSantis’ request for an opinion signaled his skepticism about the need for the seat. He asked whether 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.”

But while DeSantis’ request dealt only with CD 5, justices said it’s likely any answer to the question would require analysis of more districts.

“While this Court acknowledges the importance of the issues presented by the Governor and the expressed need for quick resolution and finality, history shows that the constitutionality of a final redistricting bill for all congressional districts will be subject to more judicial review through subsequent challenges in court,” the decision reads.

“Moreover, the Governor’s request might necessitate fact-intensive analysis and consideration of other congressional districts, not just District 5. We have no record before us setting forth a functional analysis of statistical evidence, such as the voting age of minority populations and election results. A record will assist the judiciary in answering the complex federal and state constitutional issues implicated by the Governor’s request.”

Officials working for DeSantis have gone so far as to call the district an “unconstitutional gerrymander,” despite the Florida Supreme Court implementing a map with the jurisdiction in 2015 when it threw out a congressional map approved by the Legislature.

GOP leadership in the Legislature supported DeSantis seeking an opinion, as did Attorney General Ashley Moody. But Democrats and watchdog organizations considered the request inappropriate and characterized it as DeSantis cutting ahead in the process to have his own map approved before the Legislature passes its own redistricting plan.

The Florida Senate already approved a congressional map (S 8060). The House, meanwhile, has largely put its process on hold since the Governor proposed a map and has canceled three meetings of the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee.

sc22-139 by Jacob Ogles on Scribd

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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