Judge issues formal order to rewrite Gov. DeSantis’ congressional map with different North Florida lines

FLORDIA REDISTRICTING (5)
'Plaintiffs have shown a clear likelihood that the Enacted Plan violates their fundamental right to vote.'

A judge formally issued an order calling for a new congressional map to replace one signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. However, the state has already said an appeal of the initial ruling is coming.

Leon Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith in a court hearing on Wednesday agreed with those challenging the map and argue the cartography violates Florida’s Fair Districts amendment.

“Plaintiffs have shown a clear likelihood that the Enacted Plan violates their fundamental right to vote and ‘enjoining the enforcement of a law that encroaches on a fundamental constitutional right’ presumptively ‘would serve the public interest,’” Smith wrote.

The order keeps with the direction Smith offered at the hearing, and formally issuing a document sets into motion a certain appeals process.

A coalition of minority groups backed by former Attorney General Eric Holder filed a complaint in state courts last month saying the new map, among other concerns, diminishes the ability of Black voters to elect a congressional representative of their choice. Groups including Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground, and the League of Women Voters are represented by Democratic attorney Marc Elias’ firm, among others.

Elias’ Democracy Docket group released Smith’s order on its website.

“We are thrilled that the Court sided with our clients today by finding the DeSantis Plan unconstitutional and in violation of the Fair Districts Amendment,” said Elias Law Group attorney Christina Ford. “This ruling will help protect the ability of Black voters in North Florida to elect the candidates of their choice. Floridians deserve to vote in fair and lawful districts.”

With the state Primary scheduled for Aug. 23 and the qualification period for congressional candidates beginning June 13, plaintiffs argued in court that running midterms under the new lines would cause voters irreversible harm.

With the limited time frame, attorneys argued this week for Smith to issue an injunction, but asked only for him to take actions in North Florida. That’s where the DeSantis map dismantles the previous configuration of Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. Critics of the map say that spreads almost 370,000 Black Floridians who now make up 49% of that congressional district and puts them in North Florida jurisdictions with between 12% and 25% Black makeup.

The judge agreed with that argument, and ordered an alternative map submitted by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere be implemented instead. That will only impact five seats, Florida’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Congressional Districts. Those will take a shape as they appeared on a fallback map (H 8015) passed by the Legislature but ultimately vetoed by DeSantis.

That map leaves most of the DeSantis map (P 0109) in place but reconfigures the North Florida area. That means keeping a district closely analogous to the one represented by Lawson now that stretched from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, hugging the state’s northern border and covering Gadsden County, Florida’s only majority Black county.

With the order filed, attorneys for the state have promised to promptly appeal the decision. That should automatically trigger a stay, meaning Smith’s decision would go on hold, and Smith said in a hearing he will consider whether to vacate the stay. Regardless, the judge stressed the object is to move the case along as quickly as possible.

“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level,” said DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske. “We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida Legislature and signed into law passes legal muster. We look forward to defending it.”

The bottom line is the matter still most likely will be heard again shortly. Either an appellate panel hears the case or it will be forwarded directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorneys for the state have adopted DeSantis’ argument for vetoing the Legislature’s maps. The Governor has argued Lawson’s district was drawn with race as the primary motivating factor, and that in doing so it violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. Because the district, despite spanning over 200 miles, still falls short of being 50% minority, the state argues it likely won’t withstand strict scrutiny if it gets challenged on federal grounds.

The configuration, though, was first implemented by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 when it tossed maps drawn passed by the Legislature in 2012. That ruling loomed large both for lawmakers, who considered it accepted law the district lines adhered with state law and constitutional requirements. Smith also signaled reluctance in the hearing this week to determine the state Supreme Court erred in its ruling just five years ago.

Since that ruling, DeSantis has appointed replacements for three of the state Supreme Court justices, leading some to predict the court may be willing to accept his arguments.

But his argument appears to run contrary to language about diminishing minority voting power that appears in the Florida Constitution, a dispute that ultimately may need to be settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, attorneys for the state also argue that the diminishment standard doesn’t truly apply in the North Florida lines. The Legislature’s analysts considered the district a Black performing one because it leans Democratic and Black voters make up a majority of the primary electorate. Attorneys for the state argued in court that in fact, that only goes to show the seat was gerrymandered to favor Democrats, which violates a Fair Districts prohibition on cartography drawn to favor a political party.

The only matter courts will seek to settle before the midterms involves the lines in North Florida. While the lawsuit challenges the entire map, that will be dealt with in a full trial that could take years to unfold.

The map submitted by Ansolabehere includes 19 congressional districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election and nine where Democrat Joe Biden prevailed. By comparison, the DeSantis map had 20 Trump seats. Trump won Florida by 3 percentage points.

Alternative map submission from Stephen Ansolabehere.

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]


10 comments

  • Tom

    May 12, 2022 at 6:34 pm

    This narrow decision by the judge under the guise of his quote for “control” is appalling and demeaning to Americans. No elected seat should be gifted, period! Embarrassing
    Just appeal it ASAP!
    Florida supremes or ultimately SCOTUS will end this pencil district from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. Awful.

    Reply

    • Count on it

      May 12, 2022 at 8:58 pm

      Racist map
      Racist governor
      Racist Tom
      Racist state that will get what it deserves when the well runs dry and ¥ell takes them

      Reply

  • Sure thing

    May 12, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    DeSantis’s map is logical, consistent and in agreement with the idea that no person gets a “made-for-the-man” district, as does Lawson. It will prevail.

    Reply

  • Tom

    May 12, 2022 at 11:04 pm

    I think you should say racist.
    Such a ass wipe dumb Ass.
    It’ will lose on appeal.
    Supremes awaiting.
    Can’t wait til you get your ass kicked.

    Reply

  • Pablo

    May 12, 2022 at 11:35 pm

    So we need to recognize that is the fact of the other 19 gifted districts!

    Reply

  • Edward Freeman

    May 13, 2022 at 7:42 am

    moRon’s map clearly is in violation of the clear and expressed will of the people of Florida who made their opinion clear on the Fair Districts amendments. Fair Districts passed with a margin of 1,295,451 votes. DeSantis, by contrast, was elected with a margin of 32,463 votes. As they always do, Florida Republicans are trying to subvert the expressed will of Florida voters. They are saying loud and clear to Floridians, ‘we don’t care how you want your state governed. We are going to force your fair system out and replace it with one that provides maximum benefits to us’. They did the same thing with medical marijuana (blocked us even getting to vote on recreational), conservation lands 4 or 5 times, campaign financing, class sizes, animal cruelty, comprehensive planning, gun safety, polluters pay, everglades restoration, fast trains, felon voting, and now fair districts twice. Florid’s Republicans really wish you would just shut up and go back to work.

    Reply

    • Matthew Lusk

      May 13, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      The founders rejected democracy and mob rule and endless clan warfare. Smart choice.

      Reply

  • Jose G. Matute

    May 13, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    I personally object to AIA Florida (and AIA National) being so politically biased in the publication of articles and in their overall agenda in general. It disgusts me to belong to an organization that focuses in pushing any political agenda. That is not the reason why I joined AIA in the first place..

    Reply

  • Yup

    May 14, 2022 at 10:48 am

    Good point and historically well grounded.

    Reply

    • Yup Take II

      May 14, 2022 at 10:50 am

      Lusk, I mean.

      Reply

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