Groups challenging the state’s new congressional map want the Florida Supreme Court to step in regarding a replacement map.
Plaintiffs including Black Voters Matter and other minority advocates say the clock is ticking, but that elections officials are moving forward with unconstitutional cartography. They argue a stay should be lifted on a replacement map ordered by Leon Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith.
“This Court must immediately issue an emergency writ to preserve its ability to exercise jurisdiction in this congressional redistricting case ahead of the 2022 midterm elections,” reads a brief filed Monday with the Florida Supreme Court.
Plaintiffs filed suit the same day Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a map (P 0109) designed by his staff. Critics claim the map diminishes the voting power of minority communities, and that it violates the Fair Districts amendment of the Florida Constitution.
While a full trial challenging the entire map could unfold over years, plaintiffs asked the courts to issue an injunction on the map in North Florida, where the DeSantis map dismantles a district spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and covering Black communities including Gadsden County, Florida’s only majority Black county. U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat from Tallahassee, represents the district now. But the new map would eliminate all Democrat-leaning seats north of the Orlando area.
Smith, who was appointed to the circuit court by DeSantis, agreed with plaintiffs and ordered the map be replaced with one submitted by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere.
However, attorneys for Secretary of State Cord Byrd’s Office appealed that decision, and the 1st District Court of Appeal on Friday reinstated the DeSantis map — at least for now. The court has not fully heard arguments but determined there was a “a high likelihood that the temporary injunction is unlawful,” concluding that Smith, by having a new map put in place, did not revert to any sort of status quo while the decision moved forward on appeal.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys on Monday filed a request that the appellate court expedite review of Smith’s decision and quickly certify the matter for appeal.
“Unless the Secretary’s appeal is adjudicated by the Florida Supreme Court soon, Plaintiffs will have no opportunity to obtain relief in time for the 2022 elections,” reads the appellate brief. “As the trial court found, Plaintiffs must obtain relief within the next few weeks if they are to avoid irreparable harm.”
In the appellate court, plaintiffs said judges have all the information they need to make a decision by noon Tuesday.
However, Byrd’s attorneys have argued the calendar has already passed a point of no return.
“Columbia County Supervisor of Elections (Tomi Stinson) Brown has testified that her office has been implementing the Enacted Map and does not have time to implement Proposed Map A (the Ansolabehere map) in time for the August 23, 2022 primary election,” a brief from Byrd’s attorney reads. “And Duval Chief Election Officer (Robert) Phillips similarly testified as having doubts as to whether Proposed Map A can be implemented.”
Previously, some elections officials filed briefs in federal court stating they needed maps in place by May 13, a deadline now 10 days in the past, or at the least by month’s end.
The state has argued the configuration of Lawson’s district, introduced by the Florida Supreme Court in a 2015 decision, violates the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution because it was drawn with race as a motivating factor.
Meanwhile, candidate qualification for Congress begins on June 13 and runs until noon on June 17.
Lawson, for his part, has expressed confidence the courts will restore his district, his political future remaining in the balance in the meantime.
“The trial judge was correct to protect minority voting rights by following prior Supreme Court rulings and maintaining the current status quo for North Florida,” Lawson said. “I am confident that the Florida Supreme Court will undo today’s action and reinstate constitutional districts for North Florida in time for the 2022 election.”