Florida’s courts moving quickly in fight over Gov. DeSantis’ congressional map

By: - May 19, 2022 2:49 pm

Polling places in Leon County ahead of the 2020 primaries. Credit: Issac Morgan

The state’s courts are moving toward a quick decision about whether to allow Gov. Ron DeSantis to dismember Congressional District 5, a North Florida seat designed to allow Black people in Florida’s old plantation and sharecropping belt to send one of their own to Congress.

In a brief filed Thursday with the Florida First District Court of Appeal, voting rights groups argue for allowing local supervisors of elections to assume the courts will retain District 5 while planning for the Aug. 23 primary and Nov. 8 general elections.

DeSantis argues the district, stretching from Duval to Gadsden counties, including pockets of Tallahassee, amounts to a racial gerrymander because of its shape and adherents’ insistence on protecting the Black vote. He wants to divide it among four majority-white districts.

However, a state trial judge in Leon County concluded the Fair Districts amendment to the Florida Constitution requires a Black-access district in the region.

“If a court cannot do anything about a facially unconstitutional redistricting plan before that plan takes effect, it not only undermines public trust in our elections, but also incentivizes state actors to ignore constitutional limitations when doing so would bolster their election chances,” the brief argues.

“But the Florida Supreme Court has made clear that it is [the judiciary’s] duty, given to it by the citizens of Florida, to enforce adherence to the constitutional requirements and to declare a redistricting plan that does not comply with those standards constitutionally invalid.”

You’ll find the case docket here, at the First District Court of Appeal. A separate federal legal attack on the DeSantis map is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Voting rights groups including Black Voters Matter, the Equal Ground Education Fund, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and five individual voters, have asked the First District to certify the dispute immediately to the Florida Supreme Court.

Lawyers for Secretary of State-designate Cord Byrd, newly appointed by the governor following the resignation of former secretary Laurel Lee, have asked the First District to allow use of the DeSantis map pending a final ruling.

In Thursday’s brief, the voting rights groups argue that the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled that Fair Districts’ prohibition against diluting racial and language minorities voting strength violates the U.S. Constitution, as DeSantis insist it does — rather, the court has praised the amendment as exemplary.

As for U.S. Supreme Court rulings restricting enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act out of concern for state’s rights, that’s not as issue in this case, they add.

“Florida, by contrast, is free to decide for itself, without regard to such federalism concerns, whether safeguards are needed to defend protected classes from unconstitutional discrimination in redistricting.”

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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.