Judge Knocks Down Map DeSantis Muscled Into Fruition

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) didn’t just have a hand in his state’s redistricting process this cycle. 

He steamrolled even his fellow Republicans in the legislature, liberally wielding his veto pen and rejecting compromises, ultimately calling a special session to ensure that his maximal gerrymander would become the state’s congressional map. 

He was rebuked Saturday when a circuit court judge in Florida knocked down his map, finding that it violates the state constitution’s non-diminishment clause, which prohibits reducing minority voters’ ability to vote for the candidate of their choice.   

“In the Parties’ Stipulation, all Defendants conceded that under the Enacted Plan there are no longer any districts in North Florida in which Black voters have the ability to elect their preferred candidates,” state Judge J. Lee Marsh wrote. 

The ruling centers on the 5th Congressional District, which was redrawn in 2015 specifically to boost Black voting power. Since then, it’s most often been held by former Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL), a Black lawmaker who lost his seat by nearly 20 points in 2022 when the district was reconfigured under DeSantis’ map. 

In their initial efforts, Republican legislators crafted and passed a map that preserved the Black majority 5th District (and was less aggressively tilted in favor of their own party overall). It created a point of rare bipartisan agreement: Both Democrats and many Republicans in the Florida legislature opposed DeSantis’ elimination of the 5th District, grilling his expert during 2022 redistricting committee hearings and arguing that preserving the district was mandatory under the state constitution. 

DeSantis dismissed the argument, saying that the district itself was an unconstitutional gerrymander and unsuccessfully asking the state Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the matter. 

“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divvies up people based on the color of their skin,” DeSantis said in a 2022 press conference. “That is wrong. That’s not the way we’ve governed in the state of Florida. And obviously that will be litigated.”

After DeSantis vetoed a couple attempts by the legislature to compromise, the Republican lawmakers gave up, agreeing to rubber stamp the governor’s version. 

As even some Republican legislators whispered at the time, DeSantis’ refusal to preserve the 5th District seat — instead chopping it up into Republican districts — may ultimately prove the map’s downfall. It at least netted the plaintiffs, a mishmash of individuals and voting rights groups, a big circuit court-level win this weekend. 

It’s also a major after-the-fact win for ballot initiatives, which have taken on a whole new resonance amid the nationwide abortion wars. Florida voters had easily passed, by 63 percent, a couple of constitutional amendments in 2010 to reform redistricting in the state, asserting that “districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.” 

Marsh found that the DeSantis map violated that clause, and handed down an injunction to prevent it from being used in (another) election. He tossed the ball back to the legislature to try again. 

The state appealed the decision on Monday, triggering an automatic stay pending review. Per an earlier agreement, both parties will now ask the Florida Supreme Court to intervene and issue a decision by December 31, 2023 to give the legislature time to enact any remedial maps.

Read the ruling here: 

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