Florida Judge Strikes Down Gov. ‘DeathSantis’ Redistricting Map As Unconstitutional Under Florida Constitution

In 2010 Florida voters approved the FairDistricts Amendments to establish constitutional limits on political gerrymandering. The Florida Constitution now contains standards for the legislature to follow when redrawing district lines:

  • Districts must not be drawn with intent to favor incumbents or political parties. Districts must be compact and must respect county and city lines.
  • Districts must not be drawn to diminish voting rights of racial and language voters.
  • Districts must be compact, follow local boundaries and be as equal in population as feasible.

Republican Gov. Ron “DeathSantis” vetoed earlier versions of a 28-district congressional map passed by the legislature, arguing the maps kept intact districts with large minority representation – “majority-minority districts” as long required by the federal Voting Rights Act aka “VRA districts” – in a way that he claimed made them unconstitutional.

“DeathSantis” and his staff then released his own map – heavily gerrymandered in complete disregard for the Florida citizens initiative – which would create 20 Republican-leaning districts in a state that went for former President Donald Trump by only three points in the 2020 presidential election.

The Associated Press reports today, Judge says he’ll block Gov. Ron DeSantis’ redistricting plan:

A congressional map approved by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and drawn by his staff is unconstitutional because it breaks up a district where Black voters can choose their representatives, a state judge said Wednesday.

Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith said he would issue a formal order Thursday or Friday to keep the maps from taking effect in November’s election. He made it clear he would rule in favor of voting rights groups challenging the maps.

Smith said the order will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March. The governor vetoed the bill and later called the Legislature back into special session. The Republican-dominated House and Senate chose not to draw a new map, and instead passed the DeSantis map.

The challenge focuses on a north Florida district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. The district runs from Jacksonville west more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) to Gadsden County and nearly half of its population is Black.

“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said in a statement emailed to news outlets. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.”

DeSantis’ proposal prompted a protest by Black House members as the chamber was preparing to vote on the maps.

Smith said he will issue his order as soon as he can so the state can immediately appeal it. It may be the Republican state Supreme Court that ultimately resolves the dispute.

DeSantis’ office confirmed it will appeal.

Smith said that while the DeSantis map is more compact, the issue of allowing Black voters to choose their representatives is more important.

“The district that has since been enacted and signed into law by the governor does disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts,” Smith said in a video call with both sides. “The African American population is nowhere near a plurality or a majority.”

Equal Ground, one of several voting rights groups that challenged the maps, praised Smith’s decision.

“No Floridian – including Governor DeSantis – is above the law,” Equal Ground founder Jasmine Burney-Clark said in a statement emailed to news outlets. “This is one step forward in the fight to protect Black voters, and we will keep doing everything in our power to ensure our voices are heard.”

The governor’s office drew up a map it described as neutral on race and party affiliation, and which it said abided by both the state and federal constitutions.

Smith said his ruling will be based on the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution.

That’s a shame. The plaintff’s should be entitled to relief under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act to “bail in” Florida to DOJ preclearance:

Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 provides a seldom-used path to federal preclearance of changes to state and local voting practices. It allows a federal judge, upon finding that a jurisdic­tion violated the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendment, to require that jurisdiction to submit for preapproval any “voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting.” Originally intended to supplement the expansive Section 5 pre­clearance regime, Section 3 is now the only path to DOJ preclearance after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

Qualifying for federal office will run from June 13-17.