Federal suit says South Florida congressional, House districts wrongly gerrymandered based on race

Plaintiffs claim lawmakers and Gov. DeSantis considered Hispanic voters' race while ignoring district community needs.

A federal lawsuit filed in South Florida is challenging the state’s congressional and Florida House maps. But in a twist from prior challenges to Florida’s redistricting process, the latest complaint alleges state officials wrongly used race as a motivating factor to create noncompact districts.

The lawsuit focuses on four U.S. House seats (Florida’s 19th, 26th, 27th and 28th Congressional Districts) and seven state House jurisdictions (House Districts 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118 and 119). All are located in Southwest and South Florida, and all are currently represented by Republicans.

It was filed by progressive groups Cubanos Pa’Lante, Engage Miami and the Florida International University’s (FIU) ACLU Club. The complaint also lists five South Florida residents claiming standing, including former state Rep. Cindy Polo and Cubanos Pa’Lante co-founder Mike Rivero.

“As a proud Cuban American, I’m standing up for my community and against the politicians who are suppressing our diverse voices through racial gerrymandering,” Rivero said. “From my native Miami to my current home in Southwest Florida, these maps divide cohesive communities and lump other distinct areas together in districts that just plain don’t make sense.”

The lawsuit argues that the lawmakers approved maps that lumped voters together based on race, but treated Hispanic voters as monolithic, ignoring different cultural needs of varied South Florida communities. Plaintiffs argue that they ignored the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“Politicians who treat us as nothing more than a checkbox on the census form cannot be trusted with the mapmaking pen,” said Luis Sorto, an individual plaintiff. “Our diversity is our strength. We won’t stop fighting until these gerrymanders are replaced with fair maps that recognize the full diversity and richness of our community.”

Sorto lives in West Miami in HD 114 and CD 27. He’s represented in Congress by U.S. Rep. María Elvira Salazar and in the Florida House by state Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, both Coral Gables Republicans active in Cuban American politics in South Florida.

While Cuban voters in South Florida have traditionally supported Republicans, Sorto is a Salvadoran and Honduran American, and argues in the lawsuit that his community’s needs were brushed aside by cartographers.

“One glance tells you it’s gerrymandered,” said Enrique Cruz, President of the ACLU Club at FIU. “We’re going to court because the Latino community deserves better than racially gerrymandered districts that slice through communities and deny representation.”

The Florida House crafted the map for the its House districts. The lawsuit lists Secretary of State Cord Byrd as a plaintiff, and he notably served as Chair of the House Legislative Redistricting Committee in 2022 when the Legislature approved the cartography.

The congressional map was drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff after the Republican Governor vetoed maps from the Legislature, notably based on an accusation that lawmakers had wrongly drawn noncompact districts in North Florida motivated by race.

But while early proposals from DeSantis’ team significantly redrew South Florida’s districts, the cartography ultimately produced by the Governor’s Office and later signed preserved lawmakers’ plans for South Florida’s congressional district.

The lawsuit said that’s an error, and calls into question decisions like having CD 26, represented by U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, span from Hialeah to rural Collier County.

Ironically, the arguments used by plaintiffs in this case are ones largely employed by DeSantis in trashing prior plans for the Legislature. Plaintiffs argue the challenged districts won’t pass “strict scrutiny” to justify using race as a primary motivating factor for drawing lines while ignoring other aspects unifying communities.

But the lawsuit, like other challenges to Florida’s political maps, does rely on certain federal laws and a voter-approved amendment in Florida’s Constitution to argue the cartography violates the law.

“The use of race as the predominant factor in creating the Challenged House Districts was not narrowly tailored to advance any compelling state interests, including compliance with Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments or Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” the lawsuit asserts.

Plaintiffs would like a judge to require the map redraw districts and have new lines in place for the 2026 General Election. If a ruling can’t be reached by then, the lawsuit asks for Special Elections in impacted districts to be set once legal lines are in place.

“Voters should choose their representatives — not the other way around,” said Nicholas Warren, an attorney for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The Legislature and Governor DeSantis cannot deprive the people of fair representation by packing these districts to achieve arbitrary racial quotas. Legislators and Governor DeSantis must be held accountable for the way they gerrymandered the Hispanic community.”

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].


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