Appellate court will hear challenge of Florida’s congressional map

Judges rejected a suggestion by both sides to fast-track the matter to the Florida Supreme Court.

Appellate judges declined to fast-track a challenge to Florida’s congressional map to the state Supreme Court. Instead, all judges for a District Court of Appeal will hear an appeal.

Attorneys on both sides of the case now must submit briefing schedules by the close of business Wednesday. But the greater uncertainty from the decision may be whether the Legislature has time if lawmakers need to draw a new map.

A court order indicates at least one appellate judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal wanted the redistricting case further scrutinized before heading to the high court.

“A judge of this court having requested that this cause be heard en banc, and a majority of all judges in regular active service that are not recused having voted in favor of that request, this cause shall be considered and determined on the merits en banc,” the order reads.

En banc proceedings call for the full membership of the court to consider the merits of the case, as opposed to a three-judge panel.

In this case, judges will consider a decision by Leon Circuit Judge Lee Marsh. He agreed with plaintiffs challenging Florida’s map, led by the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, that it wrongly diminishes Black voting power in North Florida. The judge ordered the Legislature to approve new cartography that adheres to the Fair Districts amendment in the state constitution.

Of note, the Legislature will convene for its Regular Session in January. Committee meetings started this week.

The map, signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and designed by his staff, dismantled a district that spanned from Tallahassee to Jacksonville and included a number of predominantly Black communities.

Voters in that district over three election cycles elected U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. But the new map left Florida with only predominantly White and Republican-leaning districts, and Lawson lost re-election to Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn under the new cartography.

Attorneys for the Florida Secretary of State and the Legislature maintain that the state had no choice but to dismantle the district as it had been drawn with race as a primary motivation. DeSantis has argued that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court this year rejected similar arguments from other states including Alabama.

Both attorneys for the state and for plaintiffs jointly asked for the appellate court to simply certify Marsh’s ruling and advance an appeal directly to the Florida Supreme Court. In the last decade, the state’s high court had the final word the last time a congressional map approved by the Legislature was challenged in court. Notably, it was the state Supreme Court that in 2015 enacted the map DeSantis now argues was not constitutional.

Of note, the case advanced quickly through Marsh’s courtroom after both sides agreed in a stipulation agreement that limited the arguments and scope. Attorneys for the state conceded that the new map does diminish the ability for Black voters in North Florida to elect a candidate of their choice, while plaintiffs agreed to focus their challenge only on North Florida and not districts throughout the state.

As a result, a two-week trial before Marsh never took place, and the judge instead ruled based on written filings and arguments in a single four-hour hearing. Marsh, of note, expressed consternation about advancing the case from his courtroom without the level of evidence that would have been presented in a full trial.

Whether appellate judges will accept the limited scope of the case remains unclear. Regardless, any decision by the appellate court will almost certainly be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a separate challenge to Florida’s congressional map is slated to be heard in federal court in a trial scheduled for later this month.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Jay Smif

    September 19, 2023 at 5:41 pm

    Neal Dunn is a “physician” who pushes quack “science” like horse-paste for COVID and has no place in medicine or government for that matter.

  • It's Complicated

    September 20, 2023 at 11:44 am

    Rest assured, someone on the GOP side of the aisle has an alternative map squirreled away for use in case the current map is ultimately overturned. The Legislature ‘having time’ is nonsensical unless the courts purposefully delay a decision until the last week or two of the early-start 2024 Session.

  • Tom Palmer

    September 21, 2023 at 4:02 pm

    There is no reason not to think the delay is not intentional given the corrupt Tallahassee politics.

Comments are closed.


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