Judge Rules Florida Redistricting Map Unconstitutional

AP Photo/Ron Johnson

A Florida judge has ruled the state's latest redistricting map is unconstitutional and ordered it redrawn by the Florida legislature. 

Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh sent the plan back to the Florida Legislature with instructions that lawmakers should draw a new congressional map that complies with the Florida Constitution.

The voting rights groups that challenged the plan in court “have shown that the enacted plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” Marsh wrote.

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The map was approved by the legislature in April after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called a special session and submitted his own proposed map for consideration. As Bonchie observed at the time:

For months, the state’s legislature, run by Republicans, has tried to surrender on redistricting. After originally proposing a 16-12 map, a ridiculous giveaway of Florida’s GOP gains, they settled on an 18-10 map. But that map kept in place a racial gerrymander in FL-5 that protected a Democrat. DeSantis, in the face of criticism from his own party, promised to veto it, and he followed through.

That set up a game of chicken that DeSantis won. The legislature requested that the governor submit a map to vote on, and now he has. Here’s what it looks like.

You’ll notice the distinct lack of a 200-mile-long Democrat district in northern Florida, spanning Jacksonville to Tallahassee. That’s because DeSantis had the guts to stand his ground on getting rid of that ridiculous gerrymander. His own party members in the Florida legislature tried to undercut him, but he refused to let them lose — no matter how badly they wanted to.

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The map effectively split the district of former U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a Democrat.  

Central to the case is former U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., whose district splintered under the new map. The lawmaker, who is black, had previously enjoyed support from a wide base of Black voters in the district, but he lost his race by 20 points under the new map.

While the map was a political victory for Republicans (and its effects born out in the midterm elections), it was characterized by the group challenging it as violating federal voting rights protecting Black voters.

In an unprecedented move, DeSantis interjected himself into the redistricting process last year by vetoing the Republican-dominated Legislature’s map that preserved Lawson’s district. He called a special session, submitted his own map and demanded lawmakers accept it.

In their lawsuit, the voting rights groups claimed the redrawn congressional map violated state and federal voting rights protections for Black voters.

Florida’s population of 22.2 million is 17% Black. Under the new maps, an area stretching about 360 miles (579 kilometers) from the Alabama border to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Georgia border to Orlando in central Florida is only represented by white members of Congress.

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Gov. DeSantis has not yet issued a formal statement regarding the ruling. He's been a bit busy attending to recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Idalia. However, an appeal of the ruling by his administration is anticipated, meaning the case will likely wind up in the Florida Supreme Court. 

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