Plaintiffs who sued over Florida’s protected redistricting process want their case expanded. They now plan to argue Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map intentionally discriminates against Black voters.
Attorneys for Common Cause of Florida, Fair Districts Now, and individual attorneys on Friday submitted a brief in federal court asking to change the scope of their case.
The Florida NAACP also plans to sign on as plaintiffs in the matter as well.
“After months of being urged by Gov. DeSantis to adopt a map infected by racial discrimination against Black Floridians, the Florida Legislature recently acquiesced to the Governor’s demands,” write the plaintiffs.
Now, plaintiffs want the federal case to explore if the map, crafted by DeSantis staff and signed by DeSantis into law, violates the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
The irony here is that DeSantis said concerns about compliance with the 14th amendment are what prompted him to veto a map approved by the Florida Legislature.
The latest briefs came a day after other plaintiffs represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias dropped the federal case and asked for a voluntary dismissal. The Elias Law Group also represents a case filed in Florida Circuit Court that’s backed financially by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation.
But attorneys for Secretary of State Laurel Lee do not object to potentially expanding the case. They only argued the court should not add Gov. Ron DeSantis as an official defendant in the case as he signed the maps in his official capacity as Governor.
It’s unclear, however, if federal court judges will sign off on expanding the case.
Originally, plaintiffs argued the Governor and Legislature would not be able to produce a map in time for the 2022 midterms. Florida was awarded a 28th U.S. House seat per the 2020 Census, and cannot run on a 27-district map. Plaintiffs in federal court asserted the courts must step in and enact a map if the state government could not. Ultimately GOP leadership in the Legislature demurred to DeSantis and approved his congressional map (P 0109).
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor previously gave plaintiffs a deadline of last Friday, when these briefs were filed, to argue why the matter was not now moot.
If a panel of judges does not allow the expansion of federal case, plaintiffs made clear in a motion they will file a new complaint. But that could restart any federal case just weeks ahead of the June 17 deadline for Florida congressional candidates to qualify for the ballot. Election supervisors over the course of the federal case already suggested they need a map in place by May 13, at the latest, to prepare for the midterms.
A trial in the federal case already had been set for May 12 and 13.
DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s original plans, he said, because he believes racial motivations in drawing some districts — most notably a North Florida district that runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville — violate the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution.
His office drew a map that dismantles the district, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, and also redraws an Orlando area district, represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, and significantly reduces the Black population there.
But plaintiffs in the federal case argue the map intentionally reduced Black voting power and violates the very equal protection clause DeSantis relied on for his argument. A legal brief filed Friday argues the map “violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by intentionally destroying Black opportunity districts in Florida and splintering Black communities of interest throughout the State.”
The 14th amendment includes the equal protection clause that says states cannot deprive individuals of equal protection under the law. The 15th amendment says the right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race. Both were passed in the emancipation era following the freeing of slaves.
Meanwhile, the Legislature initially tried to preserve a configuration of Lawson’s district, and later to at least preserve a district where Black voters controlled the Democratic party, based on Florida’s Fair Districts amendment. That prohibits redistricting that diminishes the ability of minority communities to elect a candidate of their choice.
The state case, handled by Elias, argues the DeSantis map violates that requirement, as well as a Fair Districts requirement that maps not be drawn to favor or disfavor a political party. Analyses show the DeSantis map created 20 districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election and eight districts carried by Democrat Joe Biden. Trump won the state by 3 percentage points.