FL high court OKs new legislative voting maps; congressional plans still embroiled in dispute

By: - March 3, 2022 12:55 pm

The Florida Supreme Court. approved new voting state legislative voting districts. Congressional districts remain in dispute. Credit: Colin Hackley

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday approved maps redrawing 120 state House districts and 40 state Senate districts that will govern elections for the coming decade.

At the same time, Florida lawmakers are embroiled in a heated dispute over minority representation in proposed congressional voting districts.

The ruling on legislative districts has no bearing on congressional districts, where the House, the Senate and Gov. Ron DeSantis are at odds over whether to retain or eliminate a majority Black congressional district (District 5) in central north Florida.

Thursday, House Speaker Chris Sprowls paused deliberations on the congressional plans to announce the Florida Supreme Court ruling, after calling absent House members back to the chamber to restore a quorum.

“The Florida Supreme Court has just issued their opinion upholding the constitutionality of our legislative maps and they are now the law in the state of Florida,” said Sprowls.

There were no objections submitted to the high court about the legislative maps approved Feb. 3 in a joint resolution of the House and Senate.

However, the court left open the possibility of taking a closer look at the legislative maps if asked to do so in a “fact-based challenge.” The Legislature’s joint resolution asks the court to rule out that possibility, but the court declined.

“The Legislature has raised an important issue, but one that would be more appropriately considered in an original writ proceeding, if a fact-based challenge to the 2022 apportionment is filed,” the opinion says.

House Democratic Leader Even Jenne, of Broward County, issued a statement spotlighting that point. Democrats on the House’s redistricting committees expressed numerous concerns during the drafting of the House-seat maps — including lack of public input and insufficient time allowed to vet proposals drawn by committee staff.

“One thing you didn’t hear crowed from the House floor today was that the attempt by the Legislature to silence other voices of opposition to these maps was rejected. The Court did not agree to the House and Senate request to overturn constitutional precedent and stop further challenges,” Jenne stated.

“We have a long way to go before the final story is written about this redistricting process.”

The Supreme Court noted this is the first set of maps to be adopted on the first pass without objection in decades.

Republican lawmakers leading the redistricting process this year said numerous times their intent was to comply with federal and state laws – including the Fair Districts constitutional amendments adopted by voters in 2010 – in order to avoid protracted legal challenges.

Years of litigation followed adoption of Republican-drawn maps in 2012 after the 2010 Census, resulting in the state Supreme Court striking down two of the three maps and replacing them with maps crafted by the parties who challenged them.

“For the first time since the voters adopted the existing procedural framework for judicial review of apportionment in 1968, no one appeared to oppose the Legislature’s plans,” the ruling says, in part.

Addressing minority voting strength, a lightning-rod issue in redistricting, the court said Florida’s legislative maps are lawful.

“We conclude that there is evidence in the record before us to support the conclusion that the Legislature’s 2022 plans do not impermissibly dilute minority voting strength,’ the ruling says.

“There are as many Senate minority districts as there were under the 2002 Senate benchmark plan with what appears to be commensurate voting ability,” the ruling says, pointing to five majority Black districts and five majority Hispanic districts in the new legislative district maps.”

Likewise, “The House represents that its benchmark and new plans contain 18 districts each that perform for Black voters and 12 districts each that perform for Hispanic voters. The record shows that, among the identified minority performing districts in the 2022 House plan, the number of majority-minority districts is unchanged from the benchmark plan.”

Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans concurred in the opinion. Chief Justice Charles Canady recused for reasons not described in the order. Florida Politics reported speculation that Canady may have had to recuse because his wife has filed to run for a state House seat that will be governed by newly drawn voting districts.

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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. Contact her at [email protected]

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