An appellate court formally reversed a lower court decision to block Florida’s new congressional map this year. The ruling came the same day the clock ran out of candidates qualifying to run for Congress representing the state.
The First District Court of Appeal ruled Leon Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith strayed from the law when he ordered a different map be used for the 2022 elections.
“The temporary injunction on review is unlawful on its face,” reads the appellate court decision.
The ruling is no surprise.
Smith in May declared a map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and designed by his staff violated the Fair Districts amendment to the state constitution by diminishing the ability of Black voters in North Florida to choose a congressional Representative of their choice. He ordered the Governor’s map should not be used, and later vacated an automatic stay after the state appealed his decision.
But Judge A.S. Tanenbaum, one of three appellate judges in the District Court of Appeal considering the state’s appeal, wrote shortly afterward Smith ran astray of the law in lifting the stay and suggested concerns about the decision to block use of the map. The appellate court put a stay on Smith’s decision, and the Florida Supreme Court declined to take up the matter at the request of plaintiffs suing the state over the map.
It was already clear at that point that the map would be in effect for the 2022 election cycle. As a practical matter, prospective candidates need to choose districts in which to qualify by this week. Candidates had until noon on Friday to qualify in order to appear on the ballot this year.
But the appellate court had only considered the stay until Friday, when the three-judge panel formally reversed Smith’s ruling. The decision referred to the legal arguments laid out by Tanenbaum in May.
Of note, the decision released Friday reiterated that the appellate court had not, and would not, consider whether the cartography signed by DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution. Rather, judges took issue with Smith determining the constitutionality after a three-hour hearing, as opposed to conducting a full trial. The court also took issue with Smith’s remedy, issuing an injunction and replacing the DeSantis map with one submitted to the court by Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere.
“The Florida Supreme Court for nearly a century and a half has recognized the limited purpose of a temporary injunction, which is ‘to preserve the property or rights in status quo, until a satisfactory hearing upon the merits, without expressing and indeed without having the means of forming an opinion as to such rights,” the appellate court decision states.
The case was heard by Judges Tanenbaum, Harvey Jay and M. Kemmerly Thomas. Both Jay and Thomas were appointed to their seats on the bench by then-Gov. Rick Scott. Tanenbaum was appointed by DeSantis, who also appointed Smith to his current seat on the circuit court.
An underlying challenge to the maps continues. Plaintiffs including Black Voters Matter and other minority advocates filed a lawsuit in April contending the map violated the constitution because of minority diminishment and for favoring Republicans. The map (P 0109) divides Florida in 28 congressional districts, including 20 where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election and eight where Democrat Joe Biden came out ahead. Trump won the state by 3 percentage points.
Smith will continue to oversee the case in circuit court. But the matter could take years to resolve.
The Florida Supreme Court in 2015 determined a congressional map produced by the Legislature and signed by Scott had violated the Fair Districts amendment, but that came three years after the map was initially approved by the Legislature. By the time a map was replaced with one submitted by plaintiffs Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, two election cycles had played out under the map ultimately deemed to be illegal.