The Leon County Courthouse on March 11, 2022. Credit: Michael Moline
A state trial judge has forbidden the state from running this year’s midterm elections using the congressional redistricting map that Gov. Ron DeSantis forced the Legislature to enact, citing the prospect of “irreparable harm” to voters, especially North Florida Blacks.
Circuit Judge Layne Smith, sitting in Leon County, insisted Monday that the state stick to an alternative map that he approved on Friday, which maintains a Black-access district stretching from Duval to Gadsden counties, including parts of Tallahassee.
Smith, a DeSantis appointee, said the law allows him to vacate an automatic stay that took effect once the state filed its appeal of last week’s ruling if the interest of fairness or if the state is unlikely to prevail on appeal and if it would cause irreparable harm.
“The court finds overwhelmingly compelling circumstances against maintaining the stay in this action,” Smith continued.
“Fundamental rights are at stake and time is both short and the of the essence. There are no do-overs when it comes to elections; in essence, there is no remedy for a Florida voter once their constitutional rights have been infringed,” he wrote.
The state’s appeal remains pending before the First District, although that court could ask the state Supreme Court to take the case right away given the late date: Qualifying for congressional elections runs from June 13 to June 17; primaries are set for Aug. 23 and the general election for Nov. 8.
Voting rights organizations including Black Voters Matter, the Equal Ground Education Fund, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and five individual voters who live within the contested district challenged the governor’s district boundaries in Smith’s court.
The lawsuit names Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who oversees elections, Attorney General Ashley Moody, House Speaker Chris Sprowls, Senate President Wilton Simpson, and the head of the state House and Senate redistricting committees.
Lee has announced her resignation, which took effect on Monday; DeSantis has named state House Republican Cord Byrd to replace her pending confirmation by the state Senate.
A separate federal legal attack on the DeSantis map is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
The DeSantis plan provides for 20 GOP seats among the 28 Florida is entitled to following the 2020 U.S. Census. It also splits Black communities in Central Florida and the Tampa Bay area, eliminating two of the state’s four reliable Black districts, but they didn’t figure in Smith’s order.
That North Florida district, CD 5, mirrors a constituency the Florida Supreme Court created in 2015, citing the Fair Districts amendment; Black Democrat Al Lawson has held the seat since then. However, DeSantis complained the district amounted to a racial gerrymander.
The governor forced the Legislature to OK map during a special session in April. The House debate broke down for about one hour because Black and other Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor, but Republicans returned and pushed the governor’s map through to passage.
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