As Florida’s redistricting process catapults from the Capitol to the courts, a map produced by Legislature has gained support. No, not Gov. Ron DeSantis’ map, though that seems certain to pass in a Special Session on a party line vote.
Another map (S 8060) approved in January by the Florida Senate has seen unusual embrace by the opposition.
Stretching back to the early months of the reapportionment process, the Senate process garnered rave reviews from third-party watchdogs. More recently, plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state have called on federal courts to simply put the Senate map in place. On Wednesday, Florida House Democrats pushed an amendment that would have made the Senate cartography the choice of the Florida Legislature.
The latter may be the most surprising development. No Democrats during the regular Session voted for maps approved by the Legislature in March. But Rep. Evan Jenne, House Democratic Leader, said after a review of all cartography produced in the Legislature, the map stands out. And more important, he said, it’s a better map than the Governor’s (P 0109).
“It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a perfect map in which every single line is in its proper place,” Jenne argued on the House floor. “But I believe, and I believe my caucus believes, that this is infinitely better than the map that is actually in front of us today.”
The amendment predictably was shot down. DeSantis vetoed maps approved by the Legislature because they contained district configurations motivated by race, directing the greatest ire at the current draw for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which is preserved on the Senate’s map. There’s no reason to believe passage of the map now over his own staff’s cartography would be met by a different fate.
But there’s also arguments being waged in court that DeSantis pushed the process off track. A brief filed by Common Cause of Florida, Fair Districts and other plaintiffs praises the Senate’s draw. An analysis by UCLA Professor Matthew Barreto submitted by the plaintiffs states that the map complies with the federal Voting Rights Act and the Fair Districts language in Florida’s Constitution.
“It is my opinion that Map 8060 complies with federal and Florida constitutional requirements for congressional redistricting and makes fewer changes to the current, court-approved benchmark congressional map than the other maps initially proposed by the Florida legislature,” he wrote.
While most legal experts think it’s unlikely federal courts toss a map approved in Special Session and presumably signed quickly by the Governor, the plaintiffs say in the event it happens, courts have the Senate’s proposal as a good fallback.
It’s notable this map didn’t always see such support. When the Senate Reapportionment Committee advanced the map the floor, representatives from Latino Justice promised to sue because the map did not increase the number of Hispanic seats despite the minority growing by 1.5 million people between 2010 and 2020.
Democrats in the House also never warmed to the map, and instead complained at time about whether there was appropriate transparency on mapmaking procedures in the House or the Senate.
Jenne acknowledges his caucus came late to the 8060 bandwagon. But the chaotic events of the past two months have changed circumstances. With DeSantis vetoing the Legislature’s final maps, which received no votes in the House from Democrats, and then GOP leaders in the Legislature agreeing to cede the process to DeSantis’ staff, he said Democrats re-evaluated maps to date.
“We think it’s the best alternative introduced to either chamber,” he said. “It felt the best in terms of minority access seats. We felt it adhered to compactness well. It did a better job than the House map as far as crossing counties.”
Especially critical, Jenne said, is that it recognized Florida’s 10th Congressional District, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, as a Black-performing seat. House analysts contended that seat, where the voting age population is 27% Black, did not guarantee Black voters a Representative of their choice, even though the Congresswoman for the district now happens to be Black.
Of note, partisan analyses show the map also would perform much better for Democrats. The Senate-approved cartography includes 16 districts won by Republican Donald Trump and 12 won by Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 election. By comparison, the Governor’s map has 20 Trump seats and eight Biden districts.
The embrace by the opposition for the maps comes as the Republican majority in the Legislature moves farther from the product. That includes in the Florida Senate, which in January approved the map in a 31-4 bipartisan vote.
“The maps that we drew looking at it through the lens of only the state constitution was different than when you apply the filter of the federal constitution and the 14th amendment,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.
He concurred with DeSantis’ concerns about the map, chiefly that the equal protection clause in the Constitution prohibited racial draws except in seats where a true majority of more than 50% of residents were members of a minority.
He praised Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who carried the Governor’s map through the Special Session and who chaired the Senate Reapportionment Committee over the past several months, for his presentation of the maps on the Senate floor.
“Sen. Rodriguez laid out a very strong case for why this map is better than the map we drew previously,” Simpson said.
Rodrigues said it’s important to look at federal court decisions, some made after the Senate approved its own cartography in January. The U.S. Supreme Court has sided against a redistricting plan in Wisconsin, for example, that consciously aimed to increase minority seats without arguing a compelling state reason to do so.
That begs the question of why the Senate drew and approved the map it did. There, Rodrigues said the Legislature acted more conservatively. The goal from the start was to avoid making mistakes that led to a map approved by the Legislature in 2012 being tossed by courts halfway through the decade. That meant sharp adherence to the Fair Districts requirements in the state constitution.
But he said DeSantis makes a case those very requirements may conflict with the U.S. Constitution. While the Legislature sought to avoid protracted litigation, Rodrigues now believes there to be value at least in sorting the issue out.
“There’s a legitimate conflict and tension that only the courts can resolve,” Rodrigues said. “We can’t resolve it. The Governor can’t resolve it. The Attorney General can’t resolve it.”
Thus, the Legislature has set on a path that leads with near certainty into litigation, a course lawmakers once tried to avoid. But would it be at all vindicating if the Senate map, one never taken up by the House or even taken to conference negotiations, were to be the one implemented by the courts?
Simpson defends the Governor’s map as a superior process. Rodrigues said he’ll be happy if either map becomes law, but not out of pride.
“We need clarity not only now but for future maps done by the Legislature,” he said.
Courts could validate the Governor’s map. They could grab the Senate map or another passed by both chambers of the Legislature. Just as long as a decision provides clarity, Rodrigues will embrace it, the Senator said.
“If they find the Governor’s map to be correct, it will mean we have the right map in place,” he said.