Congressional redistricting: ‘If Florida enacts this map, Florida will be sued’

‘Lots of lawyers and organizations and groups … are tracking this’

By: - April 15, 2022 4:38 pm

The Florida Capitol. Credit: Michael Moline

A leading Democratic election lawyer reupped Friday on threats to take Florida to court if the Legislature adopts Gov.Ron DeSantis’ congressional redistricting plan during its special session next week.

“I can assure everyone there are lots of lawyers and organizations and groups that are tracking this,” Marc Elias, a litigator and founder of Democracy Docket, said during a Twitter spaces discussion.

“It’s important that people contact even their own Democratic legislature legislators — not because the Democrats would support this map, but because it’s important that as the Democrats in the state Legislature stand up to this, they know that the people are behind them,” Elias said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis

DeSantis, a Republican vying for reelection this year and carving out a leadership position for himself among national Republicans, dropped his latest congressional plan on Wednesday, having vetoed the Legislature’s plan and calling the special session set to open on Tuesday. Republicans in the Legislature have indicated that they will support it.

According to data analyst and campaign consultant Matthew Isbell, the governor’s map would give Republicans 20 seats against eight for Democrats (Florida gained an additional congressional district following the 2020 U.S. Census).

His plan would leave two “performing-Black” districts, compared to four under the Legislature’s map by scrapping one in North Florida and taking Black voters away from a second district in Central Florida, Isbell wrote in his newsletter on Friday. There would be four Hispanic districts.

DeSantis had objected to the Legislature’s proposed CD 5, modeled on the existing CD 3 held by Democrat Al Lawson, extending from Jacksonville through Tallahassee to majority-minority Gadsden County. The Florida Supreme Court drew CD 3 following the 2010 Census.

Racial gerrymander

He objected to a 200-mile “racial gerrymander” but rejected even a Black district the Legislature wanted to draw within Duval County. Instead, he splits Black voters there between two majority-white districts.

Meanwhile, the DeSantis map contains a district stretching nearly that far from Polk to Hendry and Collier counties.

It is clear, more than ever, this is all about partisanship.

– Matthew Isbell, analyst

“Is Ron going to tell me he thinks the 5th district is too long, but he’s ok with the 20th? And he has issues with the Duval-only 5th the Legislature proposed? It is clear, more than ever, this is all about partisanship. Ron doesn’t care about compactness,” Isbell wrote.

“Ron only cares about compactness when he can use it as a partisan tool.”

Isbell also sees gerrymanders in the Tampa Bay area, where DeSantis would pack Democrats into CD 14, splitting St. Petersburg and the region’s Black communities, leaving two Republican-majority seats.

The governor’s press office issued a written statement describing DeSantis’ concerns.

“These issues include the constitutional concerns as outlined in the general counsel’s previous memo and the governor’s veto letter. In preparing this proposal, the governor’s office has adhered to geographical and political boundaries whenever possible, and indeed did so at a greater rate than the Legislature’s primary map,” it said.

Disservice to Florida voters

Lawson (FL-05) issued the following statement about Ron DeSantis’ proposal.

“Today’s revelation is a continued scheme by DeSantis to erase minority access districts in Congress in order to create more seats for the Republican party.

U.S. Rep. Al Lawson Jr. Credit: Wikipedia.

“DeSantis is doing a disservice to Florida voters by playing partisan politics. This latest map clearly violates the Voting Rights Act as well as the U.S. and Florida Constitutions.”

Democrat Linda Stewart of Orange County, who sat on the Senate Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee, argued the governor’s approach makes no sense.

“He doesn’t have a long-range view of what he wants to accomplish. He’s just doing what he thinks he can do and that nobody can stop him. He’s right — it doesn’t mean he’s doing the right thing,” Stewart told the Phoenix.

“It’ll go to the Florida Supreme Court — he appointed three people to that so I don’t know if they’ll go by the law or not. Then it’ll go to the [U.S.] Supreme Court — do you know how much time that’s going to take? If the map passes, what he introduced, they have to run on this map before the Supreme Court weighs in on whether it’s legal or not.

“And then, if they say it’s not legal, they’ll have to rerun again.”

An outrage

“This map is an outrage. It is a clear violation of the Fair District amendments. It may be a violation of federal law, but it is definitely a violation of the state constitution,” Elias said.

He referred to a Florida constitutional amendment that forbids redistricting plans that favor parties or incumbents or diminish minority representation.

“And it is outrageous that a demagogue, like DeSantis, proposed it,” Elias said.

“But it would be even more outrageous, and it absolute an absolute dereliction of the state Legislature’s obligation to uphold the state Constitution. And it would be an insult to the voters of Florida who adopted the Fair Districts amendment,” he continued.

“If the Legislature now rubber stamps this monstrosity … , if Florida enacts this map, Florida will be sued. That is, that is that is just a statement of fact.”

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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.