Florida judge declares congressional map drawn by DeSantis staff unconstitutional

A Florida judge appointed to his seat two years ago by Gov. Ron DeSantis has ruled that a redistricting map drawn by the governor’s own staff is unconstitutional.

Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith, who earned his seat thanks to DeSantis, argued during a Wednesday hearing that the map diminishes the voting power of black voters by redrawing two districts currently held by black Democrats.

“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. The African American population is nowhere near a plurality or a majority,” the judge said, as reported by the Associated Press.

The new map specifically “eliminated the district held by Representative Al Lawson of Jacksonville and diluted the Orlando district held by Representative Val Demings of Orlando,” according to The New York Times.

If approved, the map would have “add[ed] four congressional districts that lean toward the G.O.P. and eliminate[d] three that tilt toward Democrats,” thus most likely giving “Republicans control over 71 percent of Florida’s 28 seats.”

The good news for Republicans is that the governor’s map will likely be replaced by one of two maps that were drawn up by the state’s GOP-led legislature.

Earlier this year the governor rejected the maps because he wanted more seats broken up, namely those of both Lawson and Demings.

But from a Republican standpoint, the original two maps weren’t bad, as they would have allowed the GOP to “pick up two seats,” as reported then by Politico.

Yet the governor “vetoed” the maps and “called the Legislature back into special session,” after which the “Republican-dominated House and Senate chose not to draw a new map, and instead passed the DeSantis map,” according to the AP.

Returning to the present, Judge Smith said Wednesday that his official order blocking the governor’s map “will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March,” as noted by the AP.

The governor nevertheless reportedly plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.

“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level. We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster,” the governor’s spokesperson reportedly said.

The judge’s ruling came about as a result of a lawsuit filed in April by Black Voters Matter, the Equal Ground Education Fund, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Rising Together and three individual Florida voters.

According to a joint press release from the groups, they alleged “that DeSantis’ map violates multiple provisions of the Fair Districts Amendment of the Florida Constitution by diminishing the ability of Black Floridians to elect their candidates of choice, particularly in northern Florida and the 5th Congressional District, and intentionally favoring the Republican Party at the expense of the Democratic Party.”

The press release was posted to the website of Democracy Docket, a Democrat Party voting advocacy group founded by notorious Clinton attorney Marc Elias.

And indeed, Elias himself tweeted out the press release last month:

Following Smith’s ruling Wednesday, Equal Ground issued a statement praising the decision.

“No Floridian – including Governor DeSantis – is above the law. 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 group’s founder, Jasmine Burney-Clark, said in a statement to the media.

It’s not clear, though, how Equal Ground and the other plaintiffs feel about the fact that the judge isn’t forcing Florida’s legislature to draw new maps and is, instead, allowing them to use the pro-GOP maps they’d already drawn earlier this year.

Lawson, for his part, also celebrated the ruling.

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

DeSantis has defended his map by arguing that districts like those represented by Lawson are a problem because they’ve been racially gerrymandered.

“DeSantis is relying on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a North Carolina case that found it unconstitutional to racially gerrymander a seat, except in narrow instances, which Lawson’s Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee district may not meet,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

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