Shortly after the close of business Monday, a federal judge rejected for a second time this year the Jacksonville City Council’s second attempt at a local redistricting map. Local elections are now thrown into chaos, with decisions to make over Christmas break for newly mapped candidates, as a map by plaintiffs challenging the city prevailed.
This Happy Hour ruling in favor of a consortium of civil rights groups and voters came three days after the judge’s self-imposed deadline for a ruling, 15 months into the redistricting process, and just weeks before qualifying for the 2023 municipal elections, the coda of a process that saw the City Council more concerned with political considerations of its members than with neighborhood integrity or creating competitive districts.
Judge Marcia Morales Howard rejected the first iteration of the City Council map earlier this year citing a lack of compactness and an “unnecessary racial segregation” throughout areas north and west of the St. Johns River.
On Monday, Howard’s 60-page ruling doubled down with her second rejection of a city map. The ruling underscored her dismay at the city’s “failure to address Jacksonville’s 30-year history of racial gerrymandering, the effects of which remain firmly embedded in the Remedial Plan.”
She chose to adopt instead the third version of a map from the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the City Council map, one rejected out of hand by the City Council redistricting committee earlier this year, but without any contention from the city it was “unconstitutional or unlawful.”
“As discussed above, at this stage of the process, a remedy must be fashioned to address the constitutional violation identified in the Preliminary Injunction Order. That violation is the unconstitutional racial gerrymandering which packed excessive numbers of Black voters into four bizarrely shaped districts in northwest Jacksonville, limiting the voice of those voters to those four districts, and continuing the racial classification that undermines the quality of the representation of those voters,” Howard wrote.
The plaintiffs’ map cures defects the Legislature couldn’t, Howard contended. This Plan “unites Chimney Lakes and Argyle Forest, it does not divide Springfield or downtown, it keeps the Woodstock and surrounding neighborhoods together in District 9 to a greater degree than the Remedial Plan … and it keeps Murray Hill, Riverside, Avondale and Ortega together in one District … Plan 3 also keeps San Mateo in District 2 (and) uses the same boundary lines for District 2 that the City Council established in the Remedial Plan.”
“Indeed, the boundaries of both Districts 2 and 12 in Plan 3 are identical to those adopted by the City Council in the Remedial Plan. While the Court has some concern about the City Council’s expressed goal of maintaining District 12 as a rural district, the evidence that this goal improperly perpetuates the effects of the racial gerrymandering is weaker than that pertaining to incumbency,” she added.
This serves as a rebuff to the City Council, which walked largely the same ground in its second process as it did in the first, with moves to protect incumbents, particularly Democrats, a consideration which was primary for the Council in the Maroon 3E Fix map that was ultimately advanced. That led to no substantive change, Howard contended.
“While the City is correct that it made extensive revisions to Districts 7, 8, 9, and 10, it appears that the City failed to make meaningful ones — it failed to actually remedy the effects of the racial gerrymandering discussed in the Court’s Preliminary Injunction Order. The voice of Black voters largely remains unchanged in that it is still confined to the Packed Districts that were the four historically majority-minority districts.”
Issues in Districts 9, 12, and 14 also offered another defect, Howard contended.
“In addition, the impact of the Council’s decision to prioritize incumbency on Districts 9, 10, and 14 is plain. District 9 takes on its irregular, extended shape in order to acquire the population it needs in the I-295 corridor while also retaining the residence of its incumbent in the Woodstock area. Likewise, given the close proximity of the incumbents for Districts 8, 9, and 10, keeping each in their own district, required District 10 to wrap itself under District 8 and around District 9. Prioritization of incumbency is also the reason District 14 largely maintains the same irregular structure it had under the Enjoined Plan.”
Indeed, Howard notes, the new map forces incumbents to battle.
“The Court acknowledges that this Plan pairs Councilmembers Ju’Coby Pittman and Brenda Priestly Jackson, who live within two miles of each other, in District 10. And although Reggie Gaffney Jr. is not paired with an incumbent in District 8, to the extent he would prefer to run in the district encompassing downtown, he would be paired against Randy DeFoor. But notably, in the prior redistricting cycle, both Priestly Jackson and DeFoor had expressed an intention not to run for reelection in their districts (although Priestly Jackson subsequently filed to run in District 10 again).”
Priestly Jackson is running for re-election, she tweeted Monday: “I’m not running against anyone. I run to serve my neighbors, just as I’m doing during my current service on CC & prior service on the DCSB. I’m running in D-10 & welcome back the neighbors in D-8 & D-7, who I represented on the DCSB-4.”
Pittman said Monday evening she too will run in 2023: “Although the boundaries of District 8 have changed, I look forward to working and serving the residents of District 10, with 30 years of continued proven experience, service and results. It’s all about the voice of people and I’m ready to serve.”
The new District 10 is 87% Black and 87% Democratic, by far the most monolithic Democratic performing district in the city, according to stats from The Tributary. The map creates two Majority-Black districts, four Majority-Democratic districts, three districts with Democratic pluralities over 40%.
It remains to be seen how the new District 7 will perform, given that while it’s 60% Democratic, it is only 27% Black, meaning a traditionally Black district may not perform as a minority access seat.
Voting rights advocacy groups praised the ruling.
“We’re glad that the court has sided with Jacksonville communities and ensured the fairer maps they championed will be used next cycle,” Southern Poverty Law Center Senior Staff Attorney for Voting rights Matletha Bennette said. “We hope this gives everyone in Jacksonville a fairer voice to advocate for the changes they want to see.”
ACLU of Florida staff attorney Nick Warren likewise praised the move.
“The courts got it right today by rejecting the city’s harmful maps and ordering ones that finally protect the will of the people,” he said.
There may be some appetite for appeal, if City Council President Terrance Freeman‘s brief statement is any indication: “Our office is aware of the court’s ruling. Having led the Council’s efforts during the recent redistricting process, I am confident in the work done by our City Council to craft a constitutional map. We are committed to following the law and we will get guidance from our City’s attorneys to make decisions on next steps.”
Though Duval County has a Democratic plurality, Republicans have had a supermajority on the City Council, in no small part due to five at large seats. That will remain the same.
See the newly approved map below.