Lawsuit filed as DeSantis, Legislature, face impasse over congressional districts

Attorney Marc Elias asks a state trial court to intervene

By: - March 11, 2022 3:55 pm

Florida’s Old Capitol seen through the colonade of the New Capitol. Credit: Michael Moline

Democratic-aligned voting-rights attorneys haven’t waited for Gov. Ron DeSantis to fulfill his promise to veto the Legislature’s plan for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts — they went ahead and filed suit on Friday asking a state trial court to intervene.

Democracy Docket, co-founded by election-law attorney Marc Elias, filed a 13-page complaint on behalf of nine registered Florida voters in the Leon County Circuit Court, alleging that the political impasse between the governor and Legislature risks denying them a properly apportioned congressional delegation as the elections loom in a few months.

“There is not enough time left in the legislative session even if the state’s political branches were able to bridge their deep division: The current legislative session ends today, March 11,” the complaint says.

“And the legislative supporters of the Legislature’s plan do not have enough votes to override a veto. Consequently, Florida will be left without a congressional districting plan to remedy its malapportioned districts,” it continues.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed congressional map. Source: FL House of Representatives March 2022

“Plaintiffs therefore ask this court to declare Florida’s current congressional districting plan unconstitutional; enjoin defendants from using the current congressional districting plan in any future elections; and implement a new congressional districting plan that adheres to the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote, should the Legislature and governor fail to do so.”

DeSantis has promised not once, but three times, to veto the Legislature’s map over what he considers a “racial gerrymander” involving the proposed District 3 in North Florida, the complaint notes. Lawmakers contend the Florida Constitution and federal Voting Rights Act require them to preserve the district to give Black voters a chance to elect a representative of their choosing.

The reapportionment bill actually contains two versions of the map: One would draw CD 3 within Duval County; another stretches it from Duval hundreds of miles to the west to capture Black voters through Leon and Gadsden counties. That latter version resembles the existing CD 5, held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, who is Black.

DeSantis has proposed his own map eliminating that North Florida district and creating 20 Republican-leaning districts and eight for Democrats. The House Plan A map leans 18-10 GOP to Democratic.

DeSantis asked the Florida Supreme Court to advise regarding whether the Legislature’s plan would be constitutional, but the state justices declined to get involved that early in the process. That court ultimately will decide whether any map adheres to the Fair Districts Amendments to the Florida Constitution, which forbids drawing maps to benefit any politician or party or reduce racial and language minority representation.

Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court could be asked to settle the dispute.

Elias has been deeply involved in litigation attending the 2020 presidential election and fighting alleged gerrymanders and attempted voting restrictions throughout the country as the 2022 elections approach. He works through his own Elias Law Group, based in Washington, D.C., and Democracy Docket.

This new lawsuit complains that the old congressional map, containing 27 districts, would remain the legal plan absent a new map with 28 seats to reflect the state’s population growth during the past decade.

The action names as plaintiffs Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees elections, and Attorney General Ashley Moody.

“The Legislature and governor have had months to reach agreement on a congressional redistricting plan but have yet to do so. In fact, the Governor has made clear that he has no intention of agreeing to the plan passed by the Legislature,” the complaint reads.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

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