Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the Republican Legislature’s congressional redistricting map almost as soon as the bill hit his desk Tuesday. The Florida Legislature has now scheduled a Special Session from April 19 to 22. The Governor soon issued a call for lawmakers to come back on the issue.
DeSantis published a seven-page message with his veto of a controversial two-map redistricting bill (SB 102) approved by the Legislature 25 days ago.
A memo drafted by Ryan Newman, General Counsel to the Governor, repeats many of the legal issues the Governor has made against construction of a Black minority seat in North Florida. Newman states neither map approved by the Florida Legislature would comply with the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection clause.
“The Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit state legislatures from using race as the ‘predominant factor motivating [their] decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district’ unless they can prove that their race-based sorting of voters serves a ‘compelling interest’ and is ‘narrowly tailored to that end,’” Newman wrote.
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, the Democrat now representing Florida’s 5th Congressional District, said the Governor’s logic is flawed and that both federal law and the state constitution forbid the diminishment of voting power for Black communities. The district in its current configuration has been in place since a 2015 Florida Supreme Court decision.
“In January, DeSantis made it clear that his ultimate objective was to cut the number of African Americans and Hispanic Americans serving in Congress, so today’s veto is no surprise,” Lawson said. “The fact that DeSantis justifies his goal to create racial disparities in congressional representation by citing the constitutional amendment created following the Civil War for the very purpose of remedying those same disparities is absurd and will be soundly rejected by any credible judge.”
Lawson also notably slammed the decision by the Legislature to try and accommodate some of the Governor’s concerns in the primary map (H 8019). In the vetoed bill, the Legislature also included a secondary map (H 8015) for courts to implement if the primary map was found to diminish Black voting power.
Newman’s memo appears to agree in part with a suggestion the primary map runs afoul of Florida’s Fair Districts requirement in the constitution, but DeSantis has suggested that language can’t withstand court scrutiny.
The Governor’s Office submitted two maps drawn by Newman that were not considered by the Legislature. Lawmakers have privately said those maps appear to be drawn to favor the Republican Party. The Legislature’s maps both have 18 districts won by Republican Donald Trump in the 2020 election and 10 won by Democrat Joe Biden. The Governor’s last submission had 20 Trump districts and eight where Biden won. Trump won Florida’s vote by three percentage points.
Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls issued a joint statement about an upcoming Session.
“Notwithstanding the delayed census, during the 2022 Regular Session, Florida’s Legislature passed new House and Senate maps with strong bipartisan support. For the first time in nearly a century, the Legislature’s maps were not challenged by a single party, and earlier this month were declared valid by the Florida Supreme Court.
“Unlike state legislative maps, the congressional map requires approval by the Governor, and Gov. DeSantis has vetoed the legislation we passed earlier this month,” the leaders acknowledge. “Our goal is for Florida to have a new congressional map passed by the Legislature, signed by the Governor, and upheld by the court if challenged. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to exhaust every effort in pursuit of a legislative solution.”
That comment signals more maps may be drafted in the near future, though many observers question if a product amenable to lawmakers and the Governor will result.
“We look forward to working with our colleagues and Gov. DeSantis during the upcoming Special Session on a congressional map that will earn the support of the Legislature and the Governor and fulfill our constitutional obligation for the 2022 redistricting process.”
For Democrats’ part, they promised to resist any effort to diminish minority representation.
“Governor DeSantis vetoed the Congressional maps solely because they protected Black voters’ ability to choose a candidate of their choice, as required by the Voting Rights Amendment and the Florida constitution,” said Rep. Joseph Geller, ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting Committee. “The law is clear: you cannot diminish the voting power of Black Floridians in the way the Governor wants. The map Governor DeSantis wants us to give him isn’t legal or appropriate, and it’s important that everyone understands that. I don’t know what will happen in April, but we will not sit quietly as Black voters are robbed of their ability to elect their own voice in Congress.”
Rep. Kelly Skidmore, ranking member of the House Congressional Districting Subcommittee, stressed an urgency to getting a map in place.
“DeSantis’ predetermined decision to veto this bill has everything to do with continuing to disenfranchise Florida voters,” she said. “From the beginning of the redistricting process, DeSantis has been force-feeding his desired map onto House and Senate leadership resulting in a ridiculous two-map legislative submission that cowardly attempted to appease his racist political agenda. I did not vote for the submitted maps and I will not be part of any plan to override a veto. Without Florida’s newly allocated 28th district in an approved map, we are currently unable to hold congressional elections.”
Sen. Ray Rodrigues, chair of the Senate Reapportionment Committee, expressed more optimism about the process.
“It would be my anticipation we go in and make a good faith effort for something the House and Senate can agree upon and the Governor would be willing to sign,” he said. “It is in everyones best interests get this resolved sooner than later.”
What happens next in the process is uncharted, but Florida Politics has documented plenty of speculation.