Florida officials appeal redistricting decision, putting judge’s call for a new map on hold

FLORDIA REDISTRICTING (10)
The appeal triggers an automatic stay on an order from Circuit Judge Layne Smith.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee’s Office appealed a court decision which found Florida’s new congressional map was unconstitutional.

Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith on Thursday issued an order for the map — signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis — to be replaced for the Midterms with an alternative submission from Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere. The replacement cartography only redraws districts in North Florida, most notably restoring Florida’s 5th Congressional District into a configuration similar to how it has looked for five years. That makes it a seat with a 49% Black population and one where a majority of voters went for Democrat Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election.

But the appeal filed by Lee’s Office automatically puts Smith’s decision on hold, leaving the DeSantis map (P 0109) in place for the moment. Smith signaled he could vacate the stay on his decision. Regardless, the case now goes to the 1st District Court of Appeals.

That court could fast-track the matter to the Florida Supreme Court, or it could move forward on a case and start considering it within weeks.

Plaintiffs filed a motion on Friday suggested the appellate court immediately certify Smith’s order and send the matter directly to the state’s high court.

“The district court recognized that ‘time is of the essence’ in a case like this one,” the brief states, “For Florida voters to obtain relief in advance of the 2022 elections, Florida’s election apparatus needs to begin implementing such a new plan within just few weeks… This appeal requires immediate resolution by the Supreme Court and is both of great public importance and will have a great effect on the administration of justice throughout the state.”

The appeal was filed after business hours, at around 5:36 p.m. A certified copy of the appeal notice was sent to the appellate court early Friday.

Of note, election officials in a separate federal case had previously asserted election officials must have a map in place by May 13 — Friday — at the latest in order to properly implement cartography in time for Florida’s Aug. 23 Primary. Those opinions were filed after DeSantis vetoed maps approved by the Legislature.

Some officials have since backed off that initial timetable, though others, including in affected areas like Columbia County, said implementing a new map this late in the election cycle could require extra personnel or overtime costs.

Smith’s order said that’s a price that should be absorbed.

“This Court appreciates that its order may cause inconvenience, hard work, and expense. Notwithstanding, these concerns do not outweigh Plaintiffs’ rights,” he said.

The notice of appeal filed by the state did not outline specific arguments for overruling Smith’s order, but attorneys for the Secretary of State’s Office presented their case in a Wednesday hearing.

Attorney Mohammad Omar Jazil argued in court that the Ansolabehere plan, which borrows cartography from one of Legislature’s maps that DeSantis vetoed, would violate the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution. He said CD 5, represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, was wrongly drawn with race as a motivating factor.

He argued the district, which spans more than 200 miles from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, will not meet requirements of strict scrutiny if challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s because despite cobbling together the Florida A&M University area, Florida’s only majority Black county in Gadsden County, and heavily Black portions of west Jacksonville, the population still falls short of having a 50% Black population.

But plaintiffs in the case, backed by former Attorney General Eric Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation and represented by prominent Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ law firm, argue the map runs afoul of Florida’s Fair Districts amendment in the state constitution. That prohibits redistricting in a way that diminishes the ability of minority communities to elect a congressional representative of their choice.

Smith agreed with that argument, noting almost 370,000 Black Floridians living in the benchmark configuration of CD 5 under the DeSantis map would be dispersed among several districts ranging from 12% to 25% Black, ending the ability for Black voters to control the outcome of the congressional election.

P 0109
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]


8 comments

  • Tom

    May 13, 2022 at 10:59 am

    Holder who was held in contempt of Congress as AG, and whose justice department sold arms, weapons to Mexican cartels is running around country trying to partisan-sly draw districts. Holder also helped Bill Clinton pardon Marc Rich.

    Elias is a hack lawyer for the Clinton’s and the lives off the nipple of the DNC.
    He was with Perkins coie and was involved in Russia Gate, steel dossier and carried other dirty laundry for Clinton’s and Holder.

    This judges ruling that anyone should control a district is appalling.

    The sooner the state courts address this map the better. The fair maps amendment was clearly an attempt by Dems to control the map process. More importantly it conflicts with federal constitutional amendments under equal protection and other concerns.

    Reply

    • Better then you

      May 13, 2022 at 12:58 pm

      Notice all of those people are from states better then Florida

      Reply

      • Tom

        May 13, 2022 at 2:25 pm

        Yeah just like fondler cuomo, grabbing some “P” in between bimbos.
        How bout writing a book on Covid deaths, sending seniors to death too,
        Go F yourself.
        No one, no group gets to control a cong district. Only morons like you and your party believe so. It’s appalling what you Dem Manchurian s have become.
        200 mile jack to tally c d, drawn like a pencil. Still less than 50%.

        Appeal, and create the new map.

        Reply

  • Get Serious

    May 13, 2022 at 11:29 am

    No Constitution mandates or implies a unique racial, ethnic or other group should have permanent control over a territory.
    Judges should stay out of redistricting, and Florida should stop this whimsical amending of its Constitution.

    Reply

  • Erin Fortin

    May 13, 2022 at 10:41 pm

    I’m a Florida resident and proud that at least this gotta stay. I agree there should be no partisanship when it comes to the breaking up of our county so we could vote. Elections are coming up primaries in August, the governor just did this to prolong this dispute. Obviously his play is to delay and delay until the vote. Court justice must act fast, as the voters are getting very irritated by the whole process especially when the governor wants to hike up our property taxes in relation to a spew with the Magic Kingdom.

    Reply

  • rass

    May 14, 2022 at 12:22 pm

    The Fair Districts Citizen Initiative was approved by the vast majority of Florida voters. Tom, if you can’t respect the will of the majority, then why don’t you sue the State of Florida in federal court to test your specious claim that the Florida Constitution violates the US Constitution? That’s what happened in Fair v. Fair. Only a sore loser results to dragging trashy out of state BS into commentary on judicial review of important redistricting decisions affecting our fundamental right to fair elections. Better yet, please move to Texas and help build a wall or something

    Reply

    • Tom

      May 14, 2022 at 10:45 pm

      America’s Govs map will be upheld by state Sup or by SCOTUS. It will be upheld, fair maps don’t get to trump the feds const period.

      Rass, read please as I replied above to garbage being spewed. Holder and Elias are cons. Btw. Lawson is an embarrassment. He’s missed 100% votes in person.

      Reply

  • Tom

    May 14, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Wah Wah rass.
    Truth hurts.
    Judge said control needed.
    Appalling.

    Reply

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