Slow movement in state, federal court leaves uncertainty looming over Florida’s congressional map
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The Florida Supreme Court won't hear a case before qualifying. But a federal ruling could come down any day.

The Florida Supreme Court won’t hear a challenge to the state’s congressional map soon enough to impact this election cycle. But a ruling could still come down any day in a federal challenge to the map.

That leaves uncertainty looming over Florida’s federal elections weeks before candidate fields should be set. But with every court delay, it appears less likely that cartography will shift before April 26, the qualification deadline for federal candidates to appear on Florida ballots. That has Democrats, who a few months ago felt confident change could be on the way, lobbing complaints.

“We’re left with these maps that have people underrepresented or not represented at all and it’s not fair,” said House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell in a livestream on X. “And it’s not right for democracy.”

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from plaintiffs to hold oral arguments in April on a challenge to the map in state courts. The high court has accepted jurisdiction and will hear the case but won’t rush the matter.

Plaintiffs for Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and other minority advocacy groups asked the court on Feb. 1 to accelerate the case, based on the impending election. Florida already went through one election cycle on a map designed and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Those challenging the map say it wrongly diminished the voting power of Black communities to elect a Congressperson of their choice, which would violate the Fair Districts amendment to the state constitution approved by voters in 2010. Plaintiffs have focused on the dismantling of a North Florida district previously represented by former U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. The map left Florida with only majority White (and majority Republican) districts.

The Florida 1st District Court of Appeal in December upheld the constitutionality of DeSantis’ map. That appellate decision reversed a September ruling by Leon Circuit Judge Lee Marsh, who agreed with plaintiffs and demanded a redraw of the map.

Both attorneys for the plaintiff and the state asked the appellate court to pass the case through directly to the Florida Supreme Court, but when appellate court Judges heard the case instead, it greatly reduced the chance the matter would be settled in time for the Legislature to redraw maps if necessary.

But there’s still a chance federal courts can give a clear answer before the federal qualifying deadline. A three-Judge panel held a trial last September. Federal Judges at the time hinted a verdict could be reached before the end of 2023, but that didn’t happen.

The only filings in court since the start of the year have been updates on the state of the case before the Florida Supreme Court.

The federal court could hand down the ruling at any point. A ruling against the state based on federal law would require a finding of intentional racial discrimination in crafting the map. Attorneys for the state argue that case has not been made.

“After a two-week trial, Plaintiffs have failed to marshal the necessary evidence to overcome the presumption of good faith to which the Enacted Map is entitled,” wrote attorney Mohammad Jazil on behalf of Florida in a federal filing.

“There’s also no evidence of racial animus. Far from it. The map drawer from the Governor’s Office, J. Alex Kelly, drew the congressional districts at issue with compactness and adherence to geographic and political boundaries as his guideposts.”

If Judges strike down the map, they could order the Legislature to create a new map and it could be put in place in time to reshape the 2024 election cycle.

But even if that happened, a higher federal appellate court or the U.S. Supreme Court could still issue a stay on any ruling.

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].


7 comments

  • Dont Say FLA

    February 14, 2024 at 11:40 am

    Rhonda’s Poop Map is ready willing and able

  • Cheesy Floridian

    February 14, 2024 at 12:49 pm

    I don’t understand how things that affects the people who will be elected into Federal and State political positions can be held up in court. This could mean we have people that are not fairly represented because of an unconstitutional map because the courts take to long. The same thing is happening with the Andrew Warren case. This is not democracy.

    • PeterH

      February 14, 2024 at 2:07 pm

      Court delays and gerrymandering is a Republican strategy to win elections!

      • MH/Duuuval

        February 15, 2024 at 5:59 pm

        This has worked well in Florida –is it just us, or anyone who can be steamrolled?

  • Elmo

    February 16, 2024 at 10:26 am

    The Florida Supreme Court sucks

    • Hung Wiil

      February 17, 2024 at 10:48 pm

      Florida Supreme Court is the best court in the country.
      I have put both maps side by side on the big screen in front of 1000’s of Florida college students, and they have 100% chosen the DeSantis map as the fairest and most geographically contiguous map, ever. This map rules and will be upheld.

      • TJC

        February 18, 2024 at 2:09 pm

        “I have put both maps side by side on the big screen in front of 1000’s of Florida college students, and they have 100% chosen the DeSantis map as the fairest and most geographically contiguous map, ever.”
        Gosh, this sounds like bullshit. You are a college professor? You witnessed thousands of college students agree 100% on something — anything?
        I smell bulllshit.

Comments are closed.


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