Redistricting litigation now being waged on two fronts — state and federal court

By: - March 12, 2022 7:26 pm

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida courthouse in Tallahassee.

A second lawsuit has been filed amid the political impasse between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature about how to redraw Florida’s congressional districts. This time, the venue is the federal court sitting in Tallahassee.

As with a similar lawsuit filed Friday in a state trial court also in Tallahassee, the new action argues the dispute between the governor and lawmakers threatens voters’ right to cast ballots in constitutionally apportioned districts.

The plaintiffs in the federal case include Common Cause of Florida, FairDistricts Now, and five individual Florida voters. FairDistricts was behind the constitutional amendment requiring the Legislature to draw political boundaries without favoring politicians or political parties or that diminish minority voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.

The action names Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees state elections; Senate President Wilton Simpson; House Speaker Chris Sprowls; and the chairs of the House and Senate reapportionment committees and subcommittees.

The complaint asks the court to prevent the state from falling back on existing congressional district lines, which don’t reflect population growth that entitles Florida to an additional district, 28 in total; to draw new districts itself; and to pay the plaintiffs their litigation costs.

The dispute between the governor and Legislature is over the latter’s insistence on preserving a district in North Florida that would allow Blacks to place one of their own in Congress. The Legislature has approved two maps that would accomplish that goal, its preferred one and a back-up, with one version of the district contained within Duval County and another stretching 200 miles from Duval to Gadsden County.

DeSantis interjected his own map eliminating that North Florida minority district and creating 20 Republican-leaning districts and eight for Democrats. The House Plan A map leans 18-10 GOP to Democratic. Although he holds authority to veto any congressional map, no governor has intervened this early in the redistricting process before.

Furthermore, DeSantis has repeatedly vowed to veto the Legislature’s map. Those threats “had a chilling effect on the Florida House’s efforts to draw a legally-compliant congressional map, leading the House to postpone its efforts,” the document says.

“The governor has repeatedly and inappropriately inserted himself into the congressional redistricting process, and with each intervention, the Legislature’s proposed maps have deviated further and further from the required constitutional standards,” the complaint reads.

“Although the Legislature has proposed subsequent congressional maps in response to Gov. DeSantis’ pressures, the governor has nevertheless made it clear that he will veto virtually any map that protects the voting rights of minorities and avoids partisan gerrymandering. As a result, there is a significant likelihood that Florida’s political branches will fail to reach consensus to enact a lawful congressional district plan in time to be used in the upcoming 2022 elections,” it continues.

“Unlike the Legislature, Gov. DeSantis has demonstrated that he is not willing to abide by the law, or sign a congressional plan that does, making an impasse highly likely. To date, the Legislature and Governor DeSantis have not reached agreement on a congressional district plan.”

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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.