Miami agrees to settle racial gerrymandering lawsuit, accept new voting map from plaintiffs

City of Miami Commission 4-9-24
The vote was 4-1, with embattled Commissioner Joe Carollo alone in voting 'no.'

It only took a year-and-a-half court battle and almost $3 million in taxpayer money, but Miami now has voting district boundaries based more on geography than race.

City Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept a settlement agreement with five residents, four local advocacy organizations and the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The settlement included a new map by the plaintiffs and nearly $1.6 million in compensation for their legal fees, but no admission of guilt from the city. Miami spent about $1.3 million on the case since the groups filed suit in December 2022.

Commissioners Miguel Gabela, Christine King, Manolo Reyes and Damián Pardo, who sponsored a unanimously approved measure in January to commit the city to a settlement over the map, voted to finalize the agreement Thursday.

Embattled Commissioner Joe Carollo, who in July lost a $63 million lawsuit that in part triggered a separate lawsuit from a city insurer last week, was alone in voting “no.”

Carollo contended it was untrue that Miami redrew its five districts with racial consideration. An April ruling by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore said otherwise, asserting that the original 2022 map and its 2023 replacement were designed for “sorting (city) citizens based on race.”

Miami Commissioners themselves acknowledged in several 2022 map-drawing meetings that race was a factor.

In their lawsuit, ACLU lawyers representing a handful of residents, Engage Miami, GRACE and two NAACP chapters cited 2022 public meetings in 2022 in which then-Commissioner Alex Díaz de la Portilla — whom Gabela unseated and who now faces a host of corruption charges — asserted 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.”

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.”

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

The plaintiffs’ 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.

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 came three months after the newly composed City Commission passed a resolution by Pardo directing outgoing City Attorney Victoria Mendez to “exhaust all options” to settle the suit.

It also occurred as Engage Miami, an ACLU group and Cubanos Pa’Lante filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional and Florida House maps in South Florida.

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.

One comment

  • What is the rest of the story???

    May 24, 2024 at 12:46 pm

    Some facts that matter are missing from this report, such as that the new maps put Carollo outside the district he purportedly represents and whether or not the new maps will necessitate a special election.

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