Last-ditch Jacksonville redistricting appeal fails in 11th Circuit

Jacksonville, USA.
Qualifying is next week. Plaintiffs' maps are in place.

With days to go before qualifying begins for Jacksonville’s 2023 elections, the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a lower court, and denied a request for stay on the map installed last month.

The city had appealed a lower court decision to institute a redistricting map, which was provided by plaintiffs suing to stop the maps the City Council passed last year.

Friday’s ruling from the 11th Circuit discounted the city’s chances of succeeding on the merits on appeal, saying, “(B)ased on what we have been able to review and digest in the short time available since the motion to stay was filed, the City has not made a strong showing that the district court’s factual findings about racial gerrymandering in the proposed interim remedial plan are clearly erroneous.”

The appellate decision means that the City Council will ultimately have failed in not just one, but two tries to impose a map of its liking.

Judge Marcia Morales Howard rejected the first map passed because of its “unnecessary racial segregation” and then rejected a second map passed by the Council because of its “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.”

Though Howard rejected the city’s position, the city held out hope that the 11th Circuit Court, dominated by appointees of former President Donald Trump, would reverse the lower court decision. That hope was unfounded, however, with the appellate decision affirming lower court guidance.

The Council walked largely the same ground in its second process as it did in the first, with moves to protect incumbents, particularly Democrats, a consideration that was primary for the Council in the so-called Maroon 3E Fix map that was ultimately advanced but, per Howard, “failed to actually remedy the effects of the racial gerrymandering discussed in the Court’s Preliminary Injunction Order.”

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.

Duval Democratic Party Chair Daniel Henry lauded the outcome:

“This ruling is a win for voters and for fair elections in Jacksonville. While City Council has spent valuable legislative time and taxpayer dollars attempting to suppress the vote, the court has stepped in to protect the rule of law. With the council map now solidified, we look forward to fair and equitable city elections in 2023.”

Plaintiffs likewise praised the court decision.

“We are pleased the Court of Appeals agreed with the district court’s ruling to reject the City Council’s unfair and deceptive attempt to limit Black voting power in Duval County. This decision means Jacksonville will vote under fair maps this March. We look forward to proving our full case at trial and securing a full remedy to put these unconstitutional maps behind us once and for all,” asserted Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville.

Meanwhile, the court decision lends clarity to candidates in more than half the city’s districts, some of whom had contingency plans to run in one district or another based on what map was finally implemented.

See the final 2023 map below.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has been the Northeast Florida correspondent for Florida Politics since 2014. He writes for the New York Post and National Review also, with previous work in the American Conservative and Washington Times and a 15+ year run as a columnist in Folio Weekly. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski

One comment

  • Unintended Journalist

    January 9, 2023 at 1:07 pm

    Although Trump did appoint many Judges, this is a highly misleading statement and pure dishonest reporting! Let it be known the Appeal request was denied by one Obama and one Clinton appointed Judge. In the words of the third and dissenting Judge Newsom, “the district court committed, it seems to me, several interrelated errors: . . . .” Judge Newsom’s dissent is extremely eye opening and journalistic integrity no longer exists.

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