A lawsuit claims a congressional map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis was “infected by racial discrimination.” But Attorneys for Secretary of State Laurel Lee argue preserving a North Florida district as it was configured the last three election cycles would be the true racist decision — and one that unfairly benefits Democrats.
In a court brief responding to allegations by Black Voters Matter and other groups, counsel defending the state’s new map say cartography implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 drew districts illegally with race as a motivating factor.
The brief opens by quoting a Washington state ruling that declared “the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
“Plaintiffs ask the court to turn this truism on its head and revert to some racially gerrymandered congressional map that packs Black voters from Florida’s First Coast together with Black voters over 200 miles away from Florida’s Big Bend,” a brief filed on behalf of the state argues.
A new map (P 0109) designed by DeSantis’ staff and signed last month dismantled Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, and shifted every north Florida district to do so. This results in Jacksonville being split between two Republican-leaning seats, with no Democratic leaning seats existing in Florida north of the Orlando area.
Attorneys for the plaintiff groups, who are backed financially by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation, have argued the DeSantis map violated Florida’s Fair Districts amendment. That amendment prohibits drawing districts that diminish the ability of minority communities to elect a congressional representative of their choice. It also prohibits drawing maps to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.
The DeSantis map produced 20 congressional districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election and just eight where Democrat Joe Biden won.
Minority advocates say the map will most likely cut in half the number of districts where Black voters effectively determine the outcome, both by dismantling Lawson’s district and reconfiguring Florida’s 10th Congressional District, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings. While CD 10 remains a Biden district, Black voters under the new map no longer make up a significant portion of the Primary electorate.
The plaintiffs, represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias, argued courts should block the use of the map in North Florida. Federal courts will not toss the map before the 2022 Midterms and there is limited time for state courts to act.
Election Supervisors over the course of a federal case already suggested they need a map in place by May 13, at the latest, to prepare for the Midterms.
Attorneys for the state say blocking implementation of the DeSantis map, even only in North Florida, will be politically disruptive in seven of Florida’s 28 U.S. House districts.
“Worse still, Plaintiffs ask that the court do so on the eve of an election after election administrators have already begun (and some have already completed) implementing the State’s duly-enacted congressional map,” the brief states.
Changes to district lines also boost the chance of voter confusion the closer an election they happen, the brief argues.
“Plaintiffs’ sudden urge to gamble finds refuge in no legal precedent,” the brief reads. “In its prior redistricting case, for example, the Florida Supreme Court waited until after a trial on the merits and after giving the Florida Legislature an opportunity to adopt a remedial congressional plan before imposing one of its own.”
In a 197-page legal brief filed in Florida circuit court, attorneys for the state lay out the same argument DeSantis employed when he vetoed a congressional plan produced by the Legislature.
Then, he argued preserving the old CD 5 shape would violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Robert Popper, an expert with Judicial Watch who testified against the Legislature’s map during the Legislative Session, provided written testimony arguing that point.
“I understand that there will be little dispute that the district was drawn with its racial characteristics as the predominant consideration.” Popper wrote. “I also understand that the shape of the district will be well-explained by the effort to include African-American populations around Tallahassee and Jacksonville. Moreover, the district clearly violates traditional districting criteria.”
Popper notably co-created the Polsby-Popper test, one of three widely recognized compactness metrics for political jurisdictions. He notes the old Lawson district scores poorly by all measures on compactness.
Regardless, the state argues critics of the map simply have yet to prove it actually diminishes voting power for minorities.
It also suggests the current makeup of CD 5 doesn’t in fact guarantee Black voters decide an election — just that Democrats hold an edge.
“Plaintiffs hope to mask their partisan intentions as race-consciousness, without ever exploring whether race is the cause of voting patterns and not merely correlated with partisan voting patterns,” the brief states.