Miami to vote Thursday on new map after gerrymandering lawsuit

‘We hope this agreement represents the beginning of a new era in Miami government.’

A year-and-a-half legal battle to redraw Miami’s district boundaries to ones devoid of racial consideration may finally conclude Thursday with a City Commission vote.

Members of the five-person panel are scheduled to decide whether to accept a settlement agreement between the city, local civil rights groups and the American Civil Rights Union (ACLU). Under the agreement, the city would adopt a map the plaintiffs drew and cover their more than $1.5 million litigation fees.

If approved, the agreement dictates that the new map would be effective for the November 2025 municipal elections and any Special Election before. It also would force a 2025 ballot question asking voters to approve a charter amendment banning candidate-favoring gerrymandering and creating a Citizens’ Redistricting Committee to create and make recommendations on future maps.

“We hope this agreement represents the beginning of a new era in Miami government,” said Steve Miro, one of five individual plaintiffs in the case.

Federal Judge K. Michael Moore ruled April 10 that the city’s five districts were racially gerrymandered and, as such, are unconstitutional. The ruling generally matched the grievances expressed in a December 2022 complaint by local groups — including Engage Miami, GRACE and two NAACP chapters — now poised to celebrate victory and receive legal recompense.

“By sorting its citizens based on race,” Moore’s ruling said, “the city reduced Miamians to no more than their racial backgrounds, thereby denying them equal protection of the laws that the Fourteenth Amendment promises.”

Daniella Pierre, President of the NAACP Miami-Dade Branch, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs shortly after Moore’s ruling.

“Today, we celebrate an expected end to this racial gerrymandering lawsuit, with a new map that prioritizes people over politicians,” she said. “Our new map unites Historic Overtown to District 5 and ensures Black residents have an equal voice in local government, as the Voting Rights Act requires.”

The plaintiffs’ proposed map (P5) largely maintains the shapes of the current districts. But where the existing map forms “irregular appendages,” the ACLU said, the new districts in P5 “follow major roads and easily recognizable boundaries” to more naturally encompass neighborhoods.

A side-by-side of the Miami map plaintiffs are proposing (P5) and one the City Commission adopted last June. Image via ACLU and City of Miami.

Coconut Grove, divided into three districts in the existing map, would sit fully in District 2. Meanwhile, a portion of Overtown now in District 1 would rejoin the rest of the neighborhood in District 5.

The vote Thursday comes just over three months after the newly composed City Commission passed a resolution directing outgoing City Attorney Victoria Mendez to “exhaust all options” to settle the suit. That unanimous vote included new Commissioners Miguel Gabela and Damián Pardo, the former of whom had to fight to remain on the ballot after redistricting cut him out of his district.

Lawyers from the ACLU cited public meetings in 2022 where Commissioners focused on drawing a map that maintained the city governing body’s racial composition of three Hispanic members, one Black member and one non-Hispanic White member.

Then-Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla — whom Gabela unseated and who now faces a host of corruption charges — asserted during a meeting March 11, 2022, that the goal was “to have an African American district, for lack of a better term, a White district, which is the coastal district, and three Hispanic districts.”

Commissioner Manolo Reyes said at the same meeting, “The only race that we’re going to bring into this equation … is we have to keep diversity on the dais, and that’s why we have districts.” He added, “If not … let’s do away with districts, then … we will have five Hispanics right here, since we are 70% of the population.”

The City Commission approved the map later that month despite complaints it would weaken the vote of Black residents in Coral Gables. In June 2023, the city replaced that map with a new one that Commissioners said complied with federal mandates.

The community groups disagreed.

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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