Path emerges for North Florida Black-performing congressional district in 2024
Florida's prior congressional map (left) compared to its current version. Note the erasure of Congressional District 5, among other changes. Image via Equal Ground and the Fair District Coalition.

Equal Ground Fair Districts Coalition
The Jacksonville to Tallahassee district eliminated in 2022 may be back in play in 2024.

A plaintiff in an ongoing challenge to Florida’s congressional maps is celebrating a legal breakthrough that could pave the way to a restoration of a minority-access district in North Florida in 2024, assuming a hearing later this month goes their way.

A joint stipulation agreement was reached Friday in the legal challenge against what plaintiffs call “unconstitutional congressional maps” in Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute v. Byrd, which focuses on the former 5th Congressional District that ran from the Tallahassee area to downtown Jacksonville.

The end result of this is the defendants, which include the Florida Secretary of State and the House and Senate, agree that there has been diminishment of Black voting power. An oral argument on Aug. 24 would lead to potential restoration of the district, should the judge agree that a remedial district would not violate the Equal Protection Clause, as the state has argued.

Per the agreement, plaintiffs have standing to challenge the diminishment of the Black vote caused when District 5, formerly represented by Democrat Al Lawson, was cracked, with voters placed in districts that conformed to regional lines but did not permit the Black representation that was in place, particularly in the Jacksonville area, since after the 1992 election. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s maps that maintained a Black access district, telling them to “pass something that will get my signature.”

However, as with many things in the DeSantis administration, courts seem to take a different view. And the end result may be a restoration of what was a familiar power-sharing arrangement that gave Black Democrats a seat at the table.

“Defendants concede that if the non-diminishment standard applies to North Florida (Question #1), then there is no Black-performing district in North Florida under the Enacted Map. The parties agree that the former congressional district 5 used for the 2016, 2018, and 2020 congressional elections was a Black-performing district,” the agreement reads.

Outstanding issues remain, including the “Gingles” test, which deals with whether the minority group is “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority,” whether it’s “politically cohesive,” and whether the “majority” would otherwise vote as a “bloc” and defeat the “minority’s preferred candidate.”

“Defendants maintain their argument that the Equal Protection Clause would nonetheless prohibit the creation of a Black-performing district in North Florida (Question #2), as set forth in the Governor’s request for an advisory opinion, the Governor’s and Florida Legislature’s briefs concerning the request for an advisory opinion, the Governor’s veto message, and the Secretary and Attorney General’s response to Plaintiffs’ emergency petition for constitutional writ before the Florida Supreme Court earlier in this litigation,” the agreement reads.

However, if the “Plaintiffs ultimately prevail on Questions 1-3, then an appropriate remedy to the diminishment in North Florida would join the Black community in Duval County with the Black community in Leon and Gadsden Counties to create a North Florida district that satisfies Apportionment I and the non-diminishment standard, so long as that remedy is consistent with the courts’ rulings.”

During Session, DeSantis vetoed a congressional map approved by the Florida Legislature. He objected to the retention of districts that were drawn so minority communities controlled the outcome of elections, in particular singling out a district spanning from Tallahassee to Jacksonville represented now by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. The Legislature ultimately left it to the Governor’s staff to draw a “race-blind” map taken up and approved during Special Session.

But civil rights groups said that map intentionally diminished minority voting power and advanced partisan interests. The new congressional map includes 20 districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election and just eight where Democrat Joe Biden won. But more important to the lawsuit brought by the Equal Ground Education Fund and other plaintiffs, it also eliminates two seats where Black voters determine the outcome of elections, including Lawson’s.

While the agreement eliminates other challenges to similarly questionable districts downstate, plaintiffs exult nonetheless.

“Today’s announcement affirms what we knew to be true since the redistricting process concluded – the Governor forced the Legislature to adopt a new Congressional Map that diminished minority representation,” said Equal Ground founder Jasmine Burney-Clark.

“Despite having taken Florida voters down a similar path over 10 years ago when the Florida Supreme Court chastised Florida legislators for making a ‘mockery’ of the redistricting process, today’s stipulation proves they did not learn their lesson. Had it not been for Florida’s redistricting coalition bringing suit to challenge the unconstitutional map that was approved last year, Florida voters would be forced to accept a gerrymandered map that conflicts with our state law as outlined in the Fair District Amendments,” Clark added.

“We want to thank our legal team, the redistricting coalition and all who stood alongside us and dared to believe Floridians deserved better. While not perfect, this announcement clears the way for a map that restores congressional representation for voters in North Florida and empowers them to select a candidate of their choice. We look forward to the upcoming hearing as we continue the fight to protect our voting rights.”

Meanwhile, former Rep. Lawson may be the happiest of all. He tells Gary Fineout of POLITICO that he is considering running if his former district is restored. Jacksonville Democrats tried and failed to defeat him in primaries, and if he were to run, he would be the favorite.

Jacob Ogles contributed reporting.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


4 comments

  • Dont Say FLA

    August 12, 2023 at 5:27 pm

    This sounds suspiciously woke. Is little Rhonda rolling over in his campaign’s grave? I bet they is!

  • tom palmer

    August 12, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    we’ll see. btw, it is just result. end is unnecessary. This used to be inthe AP stylebook.

  • MH/Duuuval

    August 13, 2023 at 8:31 am

    Thanks for the update.

    The bigger question is will the restored district be up for a popular vote in Nov. 2024?

    Ron’s plan, insofar as he is capable of thinking beyond his grasp, is to hold this off until 2026.

  • Leonard

    August 13, 2023 at 8:33 am

    So many things wrong with this…..if you draw ANY district for the purposes of helping one race of people over another you are discriminating. The assumption that the voters of one race will only vote for a candidate of a particular parties is rooted in racism. The true sign of racism is to gerrymander a district for the express purpose of giving one race an advantage over another race.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




Sign up for Sunburn


Categories


This is default text for notification bar