Judge orders Miami to redraw voting map, citing ‘racial gerrymanders’

Miami City Hall
‘(The) record is replete with evidence that legislators instructed a mapmaker to draw districts to comport with a "purposefully established racial target."'

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore is ordering Miami to redraw its district boundaries ahead of the Nov. 7 election, ruling that the current map was designed with an unconstitutional “racial target.”

Moore’s directive came in response to a lawsuit by local community groups — including Engage Miami, GRACE and two NAACP chapters — that allege the city’s 2022 map was racially districted, a practice prohibited under the federal Voting Rights Act.

It remains to be seen whether the city will use one or more substitutes that lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorneys representing the groups said they will soon submit.

Moore concurred with a federal magistrate judge that the city used “racial quotas” to ensure diversity on the City Commission.

In arguing their case, ACLU attorneys cited public meetings last year at which Commissioners focused on drawing a map that maintains the city governing body’s racial composition, which then included three Hispanic members, one Black member and a non-Hispanic White member.

“When the record is replete with evidence that legislators instructed a mapmaker to draw districts to comport with a ‘purposefully established racial target,’ as is the case here, the Court may properly conclude that race predominated,” Moore wrote in his order Tuesday.

As an example, Moore noted comments Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla during a meeting March 11, 2022, that the goal was “to have an African American district, for the lack of a better term, a White district, which is the coastal district, and three Hispanic districts.”

Moore’s opinion echoed that of a report Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis filed May 3 citing “substantial evidence that the Commission Districts are racial gerrymanders in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment,” which among other things provides all citizens with equal protection under the law.

Objections the city filed, which Moore dismissed, argued that despite City Commission conversations to the contrary, there was no racial gerrymandering because the map did not substantively change the racial or ethnic concentration of any district.

This is a “unique” case, the city argued, which “throws out the entire map for racial gerrymandering because the conversation was racial, even though there was in effect no racial gerrymandering.”

Miami’s current voting map, which a federal judge tossed out Tuesday. Image via Miami.

Miami redrew its district boundaries last year to reflect the decennial U.S. Census. The pending corrections to the map will have bearing on elections for the city’s District 1, 2 and 4 seats, which cover neighborhoods including Allapattah, Brickell, Coconut Grove, downtown Miami and Flagami.

As reported by the Miami Herald, the City Commission — represented respectively in Districts 1-5 by Díaz de la Portilla, Sabina Covo, Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes and Christine King — anticipated Moore’s ruling. During a May 11 meeting, Díaz de la Portilla floated returning to a pre-1997 arrangement in which Commissioners served at large, with voters citywide choosing the occupant of every seat rather than the district-based system currently in place.

“Let’s be honest. We’ll probably elect five Hispanic Commissioners, and if people think that’s good for the city of Miami, so be it,” he said. “Who’s going to argue with that? Because the people decided.”

Díaz de la Portilla’s comments reflected a suggestion made at the March 2022 meeting by Reyes, who decried accusations the redistricting process was racially motivated.

“It is sad that we are bringing race into this equation,” he said before immediately contradicting himself.

“The only race that we’re going to bring to this equation, I’m going to tell you what it is. We have to keep diversity on this dais, and that’s why we have districts,” he said. “We have to say and do everything that is needed to make sure that there is diversity in this dais. If not … let’s do away with the districts, then … we will have five Hispanics right here, since we are 70% of the population. And in order to avoid that, the districts were created.”

The City Commission approved the map later that month despite concerns from residents that some of its changes weakened the vote of Black residents in Coconut Grove.

If the replacement map addresses those concerns and does not include in District 3 an area the city added last year containing Carollo’s $1.5 million property in Coconut Grove, he may have to move elsewhere in the district.

How much capital Carollo will have for the potential move depends on the outcome of a lawsuit he’s facing over his alleged misuse of city resources to harass the owners of a popular nightclub in Little Havana.

So far, the case has cost city taxpayers nearly $2 million.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.



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