An appellate court has reinstated Florida’s new, Governor-designed congressional map for now. An order also signals skepticism at Leon Circuit Judge Layne Smith’s decision to put a replacement map in place ahead of the Midterm Elections.
“Based on a preliminary review, the court has determined there is a high likelihood that the temporary injunction is unlawful, because by awarding a preliminary remedy to the appellees’ on their claim, the order ‘frustrated the status quo, rather than preserved it,’” reads an order from the 1st District Court of Appeal.
No judges’ names were attached to the court order. The direction reverses a decision by Smith to vacate an automatic stay on a decision he issued last week. Smith ordered a map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to be replaced with one submitted by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere.
“While disappointed by the court of appeal’s decision, we will continue to fight for fair and legal maps in Florida and around the country,” said Democratic attorney Marc Elias, whose firm is representing the challenge to the map.
Minority advocates including Black Voters Matter sued over DeSantis’ map (P 0109), claiming it violates the Fair Districts amendment to the Florida Constitution. While a decision on the entire map will be made after a trial, with a conclusion potentially years off, attorneys called on courts to put an injunction on cartography in North Florida.
The plaintiff groups — Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Equal Ground Education Fund, and Florida Rising Together — released a joint statement responding to the appellate decision.
“Today’s ruling does nothing to change the fact that the Governor’s proposed map is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on Black representation in Florida,” the statement reads.
“Rather than continuing to waste taxpayer money defending this map, it is our hope the Governor will drop this appeal and allow our state to move forward with Congressional districts that follow the will of the voters under the Fair Districts Amendments and allow all Floridians to make their voices heard in decisions that directly impact their communities. On Emancipation Day in Florida, we are once again reminded that the fight for equal rights for all continues and we look forward to prevailing on behalf of the people of our state.”
Smith agreed with the argument that the state’s new map wrongly diminishes the power of Black voters in North Florida to elect a congressional representative of their choice.
But the latest order signals the appellate court may disagree with Smith’s order to implement a whole new map.
The concern appears to be over the potential disruption of elections this year, and an order that doesn’t address arguments about whether dismantling Florida’s 5th Congressional District, represented now by Black Democrat Al Lawson, violates the constitution. Instead, the appellate order references the “the exigency of the circumstances and the need for certainty and continuity as election season approaches.”
The order simply reinstates a stay Smith had vacated. That means the appellate court has yet to rule on the decision itself, but that the DeSantis map remains officially in place. That means election officials should move forward on the assumption the map signed into law will govern the Midterms.
Nevertheless, Department of State officials have provided the Ansolabehere map data to impacted Election Supervisors and last week advised counties to prepare for either map going into place.
Plaintiffs suing the state previously suggested the appellate court simply certify Smith’s decision and fast-track any appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, which most likely will have to rule on the issue.
The question of what constitutes a status quo for voters looms over the appellate court’s next move. The state has argued the map signed in April should be considered the default situation, while plaintiffs argued preserving CD 5 would be the less disruptive course forward.