Congressional redistricting: FL Supreme Court says no to DeSantis

Order leaves question about Black-majority district in hands of legislators

By: - February 10, 2022 3:18 pm

The Florida Supreme Court. Photo by Colin Hackley.

In a victory for voting-rights organizations, the Florida Supreme Court will not grant Gov. Ron DeSantis’ wish for an advisory opinion on congressional redistricting that critics said would short-circuit the legislative process.

Instead, five justices issued a unanimous order declining to exercise their discretion to issue such an opinion, citing in part their lack of facts and analyses to answer the questions he posed.

The order was issued by Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans. Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Alan Lawson recused for reasons not described in the order. The court did not bother to rule on whether it even has jurisdiction to issue such an opinion.

The FL Senate’s proposed congressional map retains Black-majority District 5 (in purple). Credit: Florida Senate

On Jan. 16, DeSantis released a map of new congressional districts in Florida that eliminates a majority-Black district in north Florida, District 5. Citing his power to veto any map sent to him by the Legislature, he then asked the state’s high court to opine on whether state and federal law requires the retention of such a district, as is proposed in a Senate map of congressional districts.

Voting-rights and civil-rights organizations argued Monday in briefs for the court that DeSantis’ request calls on the court to circumvent the legislative process for deciding how new voting districts are drawn for the coming decade. Several also argued that the court “lacks the factual record needed to answer the governor’s inquiry,” as articulated in a brief filed by All On The Line, a Democratic-leaning voting rights campaign.

“The scope of the governor’s request is broad and contains multiple questions that implicate complex federal and state constitutional matters and precedents interpreting the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the order says in part.

The governor’s congressional redistricting proposal leaves no Black-majority voting district in north Florida. Credit:

“While this court acknowledges the importance of the issues presented by the governor and the expressed need for quick resolution and finality, history shows that the constitutionality of a final redistricting bill for all congressional districts will be subject to more judicial review through subsequent challenges in court,” the order continues. “Moreover, the governor’s request might necessitate fact-intensive analysis and consideration of other congressional districts, not just District 5.”

Rep. Kelly Skidmore, a Palm Beach County Democrat on the House subcommittee on congressional redistricting, commended the order in a statement released to the press.

“We are pleased that the courts have upheld the separation of powers and will leave this in the hands of the legislative branch,” she wrote. “It’s time to set aside this political distraction and get back to work. Floridians expect us to create fair maps that uphold the Florida and U.S. constitutions, and that’s exactly what we plan to do.”

That subcommittee has not issued a draft map of congressional districts. Its counterpart in the Senate did approve a congressional redistricting map. It retains a Black-majority district in North Florida.

DeSantis responded to the Senate map with a map of his own, eliminating the district and thus reducing the number of Black-majority districts in Florida by one.

The House may now resume deliberations on its version of a new congressional districts map. The House and Senate then will negotiate to reach consensus on a single map. The two chambers already have adopted new legislative districts for their respective chambers.

In other recent news related to redistricting in the South, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the State of Alabama Monday in blocking a district court order that required the state lawmakers to redraw their Republican-crafted map of congressional districts to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act. A district court ruled on Jan. 24 that Alabama must draw a map that includes not just one but two districts with sufficient Black voters to ensure they may elect candidates of their choice.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling leaves the disputed map in place through this fall’s elections until the case is litigated, as reported by the Wall Street Journal and other professional news organizations. The district court agreed with critics that the map disadvantages Black voters in the upcoming congressional elections.

Voting for that decision were Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Cavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas., who did not write an order explaining their rationale. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, as did Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper.