There won’t be a federal trial on Florida’s congressional map before the midterms.
A federal judge canceled a trial set to begin May 12 after plaintiffs argued to change the argument brought before court. While the case file remains open, taking the redistricting trial off the calendar means there’s no way courts replace Florida’s congressional map ahead of the 2022 elections.
Common Cause of Florida, Fair Districts Now, and other plaintiffs initially sued the state contending Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature would not agree on a congressional map in time for the midterms. DeSantis did veto maps originally passed by the Legislature, but lawmakers later demurred in a Special Session and passed a map crafted by DeSantis’ staff. DeSantis signed the map (P 0109) earlier this month.
With the original argument void, plaintiffs last week filed to change the scope of the case and argued the map DeSantis’ team designed was “infected by racial discrimination against Black Floridians.” Attorneys argue that by dismantling two congressional districts considered by legislative analysts as Black performing seats, the map violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The NAACP also wants to sign on as a plaintiff in the case.
Ironically, DeSantis said designing the seats with racial motivation in the first place violated the very same language in the Constitution. He cited the construction of a North Florida seat connecting Black communities from Tallahassee to Jacksonville violates the law, and preservation of the seat, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, was his chief reason for vetoing the Legislature’s cartography.
U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor is considering the shift in argument from the plaintiffs, and he gave attorneys for Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee until May 9 to respond to the allegations waged in the suit.
“They acknowledge that their original claims are moot, but they seek to assert new claims against the recently enacted congressional map,” Winsor explained in a court order.
Plaintiffs indicated if the judge does not authorize the new arguments to be waged in this case, a new complaint will be filed. That would mean starting over as far as a federal court case.
Regardless, the change in trial date impacts any resolution to arguments. After election officials reported a need for a congressional map to be in place by May 13 at the latest, federal judges had set a trial date for May 12 and 13. The trial will no longer take place at that time.
Plaintiffs have yet to file a new course of relief in the case. Initially, attorneys asked judges to put a new map in place before DeSantis and the Legislature had come to an agreement on a final product.
Meanwhile, a separate case continues in Florida state courts. Backed by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation and represented by prominent Democratic attorney Marc Elias, the case filed by Black Voting Matters and other groups argues the DeSantis map violates Florida’s Fair District amendment in Florida’s constitution, which prohibits diminishment of Black communities’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice.