Revised complaint: DeSantis congressional redistricting plan targeted Black voters

‘None of this was done in secret or in back rooms’

By: - May 12, 2022 3:20 pm

Black caucus members and Democrats in the state House chamber shut down debate on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map on April 21, 2022. House Speaker Chris Sprowls returned to the chamber and lawmakers pushed through the special session bills. Credit: Michael Moline.

Fresh arguments filed in a federal legal challenge to Florida’s new congressional redistricting plan accuse Gov. Ron DeSantis of blatant racism in diminishing Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice in North and Central Florida.

In an amended complaint filed Wednesday in Common Cause of Florida v. Lee, civil rights groups allege the governor bullied the Legislature into rubber stamping his congressional district map even though he understood it violated the Fourteenth and Fifteen Amendments.

“None of this was done in secret or in back rooms. Rather, the governor repeatedly made his intentions clear and employed extreme pressure tactics to fulfill those intentions,” the brief argues.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference at The Villages in Sumter County on April 19, 2022, the day that the Legislature convenes in special session to consider congressional maps. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel

“After months of resistance throughout a legislative process unlike any ever seen before in Florida history, the Legislature finally acquiesced and attempted to wash its hands of the enacted plan by placing the blame for the new map squarely at the governor’s feet,” the document continues.

“But, in the end, by enacting the plan into law, the Legislature bears the same responsibility for it as the governor.”

The brief asks the court to order the Legislature to redraw the map to eliminate the discrimination or else draw its own map.

The lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, names DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees elections. Also suing are Fair Districts Now, Florida NAACP, and five individual voters.

Separate litigation is pending in state Circuit Court in Leon County, where Judge Layne Smith said on Wednesday that he planned to rule that the congressional plan discriminates against Black voters.

He had not released a formal opinion as of Thursday afternoon, which would set the stage for a state appeal to the First District Court of Appeal or directly to the Florida Supreme Court. DeSantis has made clear that, should the federal case go against him, he will appeal to a higher court.

Judge Allen Winsor, presiding over a three-judge federal trial panel hearing the federal case, agreed to accept the amended complaint filed this week.

Black voter suppression

The Legislature approved the governor’s map on April 21 following a sit-in by members of the House Black caucus.

That complaint details Florida’s history of suppressing Black votes dating to the post-Reconstruction era, including recent unfair purging of Black people from the voting rolls and targeting of “souls to the polls” turnout drives centered in the Black church.

That analysis tracks the conclusions Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District sketched in separate litigation targeting SB 90, the 2021 voting law restricting voting procedures traditionally used by Black people. Walker ruled portions of the law unconstitutional, but a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled last week that the state could enforce the restrictions pending further hearings into the merits of that case.

In the federal redistricting case, the new brief focuses mostly on three districts proposed during legislative debate over redistricting: CD 5 in North Florida, CD 10 in Central Florida, and CD 13 in Tampa Bay.

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

The first, similar to a district now held by Democrat Al Lawson, spans some 200 miles from Duval to Gadsden counties, including Black neighborhoods in Tallahassee, capturing the descendants of enslaved people in Florida’s former plantation belt.

Blacks don’t comprise a majority of the voting age population in the district but their strength is enough to return a Black candidate to Congress, according to an analysis cited in the brief.

The governor’s plan splits Black votes in CD 10 and 13, the brief argues.

“The enacted plan was adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of disadvantaging Black voters,” the it reads.

“It blatantly flouts the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on laws enacted with an invidious purpose, i.e., intentional discrimination on the basis of race. It likewise blatantly ignores the Fifteenth Amendment’s promise that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race,” it continues.

“In proposing and signing the enacted plan into law, Gov. DeSantis acted with invidious intent to disadvantage Black Floridians.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.