Florida Judge Rules Governor DeSantis’ Redrawn Congressional Districts Unconstitutional, Diminishing Black Voting Power

In a significant ruling, Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh in Tallahassee declared that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ redrawn congressional districts in North Florida violate the state’s constitution.[0] Marsh ordered the GOP-led Legislature to create a new map.[1] The lawsuit was brought by various groups, including Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground, Florida Rising, and the League of Women Voters of Florida, who argued that the new map diminished the voting power of Black voters.[2] The district in question, previously held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, was eliminated under the new map, resulting in the loss of all Black representation in North Florida.[2]

Under the previous plan, the district allowed Black voters to elect their candidates of choice. However, the enacted plan dismantled the district, violating the Florida Constitution, according to Marsh’s ruling.[3] The judge emphasized that the stipulated facts presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates, which is a violation of the Florida Constitution. The ruling was welcomed by Democrats and voting rights advocates who see it as a victory in the fight for fair representation for Black Floridians.[0]

DeSantis vetoed the initial redistricting map, which would have benefited Republicans in 16 out of 28 districts.[3] Instead, he convinced the Legislature to enact his map, which resulted in Republicans winning 20 out of 28 seats.[1] Some Republicans credited DeSantis with helping them secure a slim majority in the House.[4] However, critics argue that the redistricting efforts were racially motivated and aimed at diminishing the voting power of Black Floridians.

The ruling in Florida is part of a broader trend of courts scrutinizing Republican-drawn congressional maps over concerns of reduced Black voting power. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Republican-drawn map in Alabama and ordered the creation of an additional majority-Black district.[5] Similar rulings have occurred in other states, including Louisiana, where lawmakers were required to redraw the map to increase minority representation.[1]

Florida gained one additional congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth, bringing the total number of districts to 28. The Republican-controlled Legislature enacted maps that would have favored Republicans in 16 of those districts.[4] The new map resulted in Republicans gaining four additional seats, increasing their representation to 20 out of 28 seats.

The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court.[6] Attorneys for the state argued that using a district similar to Lawson’s previous district would involve racial gerrymandering, violating the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.[0] DeSantis claimed that the previous district violated the Equal Protection clause as well, but the U.S. Supreme Court recently sided with Black voters in a similar case in Alabama.

The case has highlighted the ongoing battle for fair representation and the protection of voting rights. Voting rights advocates are calling for a new map that restores the Fifth Congressional District and empowers Black voters to choose their preferred candidates.[3] The state must file a notice of appeal by Monday, and both parties intend to request that the Florida Supreme Court hear the case directly.[7] The ruling is expected to have broader implications for redistricting efforts and voting rights protections in Florida.

0. “Florida judge rules congressional redistricting plan is unconstitutional” WFTV Orlando, 3 Sep. 2023, https://www.wftv.com/news/local/florida-judge-rules-congressional-redistricting-plan-is-unconstitutional/DJWCDMSOKJHWVNJFJB2GL6YZGI

1. “Judge rules Ron DeSantis’ congressional map wrongly diminished Black voting power” Florida Politics, 2 Sep. 2023, https://floridapolitics.com/archives/632396-judge-rules-ron-desantis-congressional-map-wrongly-diminished-black-voting-power/

2. “DeSantis-backed congressional map declared unconstitutional by judge” Washington Examiner, 3 Sep. 2023, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/campaigns/desantis-backed-congressional-map-declared-unconstitutional-judge

3. “Judge: Congressional district lines around Jacksonville unconstitutional” The Florida Times-Union, 2 Sep. 2023, https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/politics/elections/2023/09/02/judge-congressional-district-lines-around-jacksonville-unconstitutional/70753135007/

4. “Judge strikes down north Florida congressional districts and orders lawmakers to redraw map – POLITICO” POLITICO, 2 Sep. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/09/02/judge-says-desantis-congressional-map-is-unconstitutional-orders-lawmakers-to-draw-new-one-00113835

5. “Judge rejects DeSantis-drawn congressional map as unconstitutional” The Hill, 3 Sep. 2023, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/4184784-judge-rejects-desantis-drawn-congressional-map/

6. “Florida judge strikes down DeSantis-backed voting map as unconstitutional” The Guardian US, 3 Sep. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/sep/03/florida-judge-ron-desantis-voting-redistricting-map-unconstitutional

7. “Judge rules against DeSantis in challenge to congressional map” Tampa Bay Times, 2 Sep. 2023, https://www.tampabay.com/news/florida-politics/2023/09/02/desantis-congressional-redistricting-map-judge-black-voters

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