Plaintiffs ask judge to block Gov. DeSantis’ congressional map

FLORDIA REDISTRICTING (1)
Minority advocates say the cartography shouldn't govern the midterms.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state want Florida’s new congressional map put on hold before the midterms.

Attorneys for the minority advocates suing over the redistricting plans filed a motion in Leon County circuit court asking a judge to block use of the map this year. Democracy Docket, run by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias, shared the complaint and a memo backing up the argument that the reconfiguration of Florida’s 5th Congressional District blatantly violated provisions of the state constitution.

“Black voters in North Florida had the ability to elect candidates of their choice in Benchmark CD-5, but the DeSantis Plan diminishes that ability by carving up the district and cracking its Black population among four new districts,” reads a memo of law submitted Tuesday evening.

The makeup of CD 5 proved the greatest point of tension between the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Governor vetoed congressional maps approved by the Legislature, asserting the existing boundaries for CD 5 were racially motivated in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

“They forgot to make sure what they were doing complied with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” DeSantis said last month.

But the Legislature sought to preserve CD 5 in nearly every draft of congressional maps, citing the Fair Districts amendment to the Florida Constitution. Passed by voters in 2010, the amendment prohibits the diminishment of any ability for minority communities to elect a candidate of their choice. CD 5, under the baseline map implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015, stretched from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and covered a number of minority communities. That included Gadsden County, Florida’s only majority Black county.

After DeSantis’ veto, the Legislature returned for a Special Session this month and approved a map (P 0109) drawn by DeSantis’ staff. The Governor signed that measure on Friday. That map effectively disassembles CD 5 into nearby districts. The changes take away a safe seat held now by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Tallahassee Democrat and a Black man, and replaces it with two Republican seats in the Jacksonville area.

“Rather than preserve a North Florida district where Black voters would retain their ability to elect their candidates of choice to Congress, the DeSantis Plan cracks Black voters among four majority-white districts, thus diminishing their voting strength in violation of the Fair Districts Amendment,” argues the plaintiffs’ motion.

The lawsuit, which is backed financially by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation, aims to undo the DeSantis map. But it’s unclear what could stand in its place. Florida picked up an extra congressional seat this election cycle based on the 2020 Census. That means the baseline 27-district map can’t stand.

In a federal lawsuit where a separate group of plaintiffs asked federal judges to replace the DeSantis map, Elias’ group intervened and offered alternative cartography crafted by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere that largely preserves the map.

The memo supporting the new motion also mentions two maps approved by the Legislature that preserve CD 5. One is a map (S 8060) approved by the Florida Senate in January but never considered by the House. The other is one approved by the full Legislature, but as a fallback map (H 8015) in case the courts found the Governor’s insistence on tearing apart CD 5 unworkable. Neither of those maps was ever signed by the Governor.

The briefs filed in state court by Elias’ team lean heavily on Ansolabehere’s analysis of the baseline maps and on the results that would come from DeSantis’ plan should it govern the 2022 election. Ansolabehere says Black residents make up 49.1% of CD 5 registered voters under the boundaries in place for the last half decade. Moreover, they cast a plurality of votes in the district in subsequent election cycles.

“Given the extraordinary political cohesion of Black voters in Benchmark CD-5,” a brief reads, “Dr. Ansolabehere concludes that Black voters had the ability to elect their preferred candidates in that district — and, indeed, elected Black Democrat Al Lawson to Congress in 2016, 2018, and 2020.”

Now, Black voters don’t make up a majority in any of the four separate congressional districts where they land on the new map.

The brief argues Black voters are strategically diluted across districts. Ansolabehere in a cited analysis found that of the 367,467 Black Floridians under the old CD 5, “not one of these individuals will reside in a district in which they have the ability to elect their candidates of choice.”

Most legal experts anticipate that even if courts eventually find DeSantis’ map to be unconstitutional, it will still likely govern the 2022 election cycle. Florida election officials in the federal case filed briefs weeks ago saying they need a map in place by May 13 at the latest in order to prepare for Primary Election in August.

The motion filed by plaintiffs suggests irreversible harm should the election move forward on an illegal map.

“No other remedy exists under Florida law to remedy the harm Plaintiffs will suffer if the 2022 primary and general elections proceed under an unconstitutional districting plan,” a brief states. “Plaintiffs lack an adequate remedy at law where, as here, their injuries result from a violation of a fundamental constitutional right.”

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]


2 comments

  • Gilberto

    April 27, 2022 at 1:08 pm

    So the argument from the Democrats is that there should be a district created specifically for 1 minority group in the state. A district which makes absolutely no sense. Has anyone actually looked at the map? The weird looking district that stretches all the way from one coast to the other and looks like a Picasso painting…yeah that one. That’s the one they absolutely need to keep. Wow! Ridiculous.

    • Anonymous

      April 29, 2022 at 10:28 am

      Are you perhaps referring to Neal Dunn’s district? Includes 19 counties and is miles wider than district 5, which only includes 8 counties. Or maybe you are referring to the gerrymandered district this one replaced? The one the courts threw out because it looked like a coffee spill? I look at the maps all the time, the current one, former ones, proposed ones… This is far from being the most gerrymandered district in our state, let alone country, let alone history.

      Also, it is to benefit a minority group that has been historically damaged by their government and makes up 17% of Florida’s population. Should they not have 17% of the congressional seats? Because DeSantis’s map only gives them 7-10% (varies on if you count Rep. Donalds as a minority representative. I don’t, but I imagine you do).

      On a related note, probably also not fair for a party that only represents 36% of Floridians to have 70% of the seats drawn in their favor. But that’s not new, Republicans only just passed Dems in voter registration yet they have been held a majority of seats in the Florida Legislature for decades. If you’re looking for gerrymandering, maybe look at your own damn party.

Comments are closed.


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