Florida Judge Blocks DeSantis Redistricting Map That Would Affect Black Voters

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Florida Judge Blocks DeSantis Redistricting Map That Would Affect Black Voters

Topline

A Florida judge said Wednesday he will reject a congressional map backed by Gov. Ron Desantis (R-Fla.), arguing the map violated the state constitution by disbanding a district with a large Black population—the latest state-level redistricting battle this year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a new conference on July 13, 2020, in Miami.


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Key Facts

During a hearing, Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith—who was appointed by DeSantis two years ago—said he will issue an injunction later this week blocking part of the redistricting map, siding with voting groups that sued state officials.

Smith said the new map runs afoul of the Florida constitution’s Fair Districts Amendments because it dismantles northern Florida’s 5th congressional district, where Black residents make up more than 40% of the population, a move that “diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.”

The judge said he won’t order the state legislature to return to session to devise a new map, and instead will probably enact one of the maps that was previously passed by lawmakers but rejected by DeSantis, the Associated Press notes.

State officials have argued the long, narrow congressional district—which is represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D)—was redrawn because it is not especially compact, stretching more than 150 miles from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.

What To Watch For

DeSantis’ Communications Director Taryn Fenske told Forbes on Wednesday the state will appeal Smith’s ruling to a higher court, and is “confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster.” The case will head to a state appellate court next, and could eventually reach the conservative-leaning Florida Supreme Court.

Key Background

Florida lawmakers and DeSantis approved a congressional redistricting plan last month, following a back-and-forth between the legislature and DeSantis’ office. The state legislature’s original plan was vetoed by DeSantis in March, leading the governor’s staff to step in and propose the map that was ultimately passed and signed into law. The map gives Republicans an advantage in most of the state’s 28 congressional seats, and it divides up Lawson’s 5th district into several Republican-leaning districts. DeSantis argued the redistricting plan eliminated a racially gerrymandered 5th district, but the decision drew a legal challenge from voting groups who said the map favored Republicans and shrank Black voters’ power.

Tangent

State officials across the country are working to redraw congressional maps this year in accordance with new U.S. Census data, a process that could impact the House’s balance of power for the next decade. In several states, the process has drawn lawsuits. A New York judge halted the state’s new map in late March, arguing Democrats gerrymandered to undermine Republicans’ power. Meanwhile, a judge in North Carolina tossed out a map drawn by Republicans, and the Supreme Court later upheld a new map approved by the court.

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