Federal Judges uphold Florida map, but raise questions on whether race motivated Gov. DeSantis

A Judge wrote that DeSantis 'drew, proposed, and submitted the Enacted Map with race as a motivating factor.'

A federal court has ruled that the Legislature didn’t act with race as a motivating factor in approving Florida’s congressional map. The same can’t be said for Gov. Ron DeSantis, a ruling states.

Regardless, the court found that the map doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution. While a state challenge to the map remains ongoing, it’s unclear if the federal ruling will be appealed.

“It is not enough for the plaintiffs to show that the Governor was motivated in part by racial animus, which we will assume without deciding for purposes of our decision,” the ruling reads. “Rather, they also must prove that the Florida Legislature itself acted with some discriminatory purpose when adopting and passing the Enacted Map.”

The unanimous decision came from a three-Judge panel that included two Judges appointed by Republican Presidents and one appointed by a Democrat. All agreed it was impossible to find racial animus when lawmakers deferred to DeSantis on a final map.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, in a concurring opinion, said the same can’t be said about the Governor. Jordan was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

“The evidence presented at trial convinces me that Governor DeSantis drew, proposed, and submitted the Enacted Map with race as a motivating factor,” Jordan wrote.

Of note, U.S. Circuit Judge Allen Winsor, appointed by Republican President Donald Trump, openly disagreed in his own concurrent opinion.

“To me, opposing race-based redistricting cannot be proof of discrimination or racial animus,” Winsor wrote.

Jordan slams the process used by mapmaker Alex Kelly, now Florida’s Secretary of Commerce, and the motivations behind the dismantling of a North Florida district that previously elected a Black Democrat.

“Of all the maps in play, it was only the Governor’s proposal — which became the Enacted Map — that splintered Black voters and eliminated North Florida’s only Black performing congressional district.,” Jordan wrote.

Nevertheless, Jordan said the courts ultimately had to consider the motives of the Legislature and the language of the U.S. Constitution. While plaintiffs argued that the redistricting process violated the 14th and 15th amendments, Jordan said such arguments fall short. Ultimately, he said there is no guarantee in the U.S. Constitution for the redistricting process to preserve the same number of minority-performing seats.

“It does not ensure that they have no less opportunity to elect preferred candidates than they did under an earlier map,” Jordan wrote.

That could prove a critical ruling in the ongoing state case, as the Florida Constitution’s Fair Districts amendment prohibits the diminishment of the ability for minority communities to elect a U.S. Representative of their choice.

But any argument that the map violates the U.S. Constitution would require finding a racial animus from the Legislature, which is difficult. Indeed, Judges note most redistricting challenges choose to challenge maps under the Voting Rights Act, not on constitutional grounds.

Judges suggested that signaled a recognition by plaintiffs that a challenge based purely on a voter dilution argument would not meet muster in court. But it left a very high bar to argue that racial animus served as a prime motivator behind the maps, and asked Judges to make a nearly unprecedented ruling.

“Most plaintiffs asserting vote dilution claims in the last 40 years have proceeded under Section 2 and have not invoked the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments,” the ruling states. “That means that there is a dearth of Supreme Court authority on what is required to prove dilutive effect with respect to congressional districts under the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments.”

It’s unclear what paths lay ahead for challenging the map.

Common Cause Florida, the lead plaintiff group challenging the map, said it’s carefully examining the ruling.

“While we carefully analyze the ruling … to determine what it means for Floridians, we are disappointed in the court’s decision to deny Black voters their right to full representation,” reads a post on Common Cause’s social media.

But the Democracy Docket blog run by Democratic lawyer Marc Elias’ law firm may signal that any appeal in federal court is unlikely. Elias’ firm has handled legal challenges to Florida’s map.

“Although today’s ruling marks the end of the federal legal challenge to Florida’s congressional map, the state-level case remains ongoing, and could provide Black Floridians with relief prior to the 2026 midterm elections,” reads the Democracy Docket post.

The Florida Supreme Court announced in January that they will take up a challenge based on the state constitution. But a timeline set out by Judges makes it nearly impossible to implement a new map in time to impact the 2024 elections.

Leon Circuit Court Judge Lee Marsh in September ruled in favor of plaintiffs suing the state and said the cartography diminished Black voters’ ability to elect a Representative of their choice, a direct violation of the Fair Districts Amendment approved by voters in 2010.

But an appellate court later overruled that decision, and said a map approved by a prior configuration of the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 ran afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

The federal ruling also upholds the map, but seems to argue differently about the prior map. Jordan, in fact, says a North Florida congressional district in place before redistricting would meet scrutiny in court, despite DeSantis labeling it an unconstitutional gerrymander.

“It is not at all obvious that proposed CD-3 had a fatal compactness problem,” Jordan wrote.

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].

One comment

  • tom palmer

    March 28, 2024 at 6:18 pm

    Of course race and politics were factors.

Comments are closed.


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