Court Tosses DeSantis Endorsed Florida Gerrymandered Maps

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A judge has struck down a gerrymandered set-up approved by Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis that dramatically reshaped Congressional district lines in an area currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson, who is Black. DeSantis’s Congressional redistricting plan left areas presently in Lawson’s district spread across four new districts, essentially wiping Lawson’s district off the map.

Nicholas Warren, an attorney with the ACLU in Florida, reported on Wednesday that “FL state trial judge Layne Smith will block the DeSantis map in North FL for 2022, ordering a restored FL-05 be used this year.” FL-05 is the district Lawson currently represents. According to Warren, “Once reduced to writing, the state can appeal the order to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which could stay the ruling. The 1st DCA could hear it themselves or certify a matter of great public importance and ask the FL Supreme Court to take it directly.” Per Warren’s recap, Smith has directed the version of the Fifth Congressional District from the state legislature’s so-called back-up map to be tacked on to the arrangement recently approved by DeSantis, thereby rearranging the district configuration in the northern parts of Florida. Other components of the case are continuing to play out.

Smith, in laying out his conclusions this week, pointed to how concerns for protecting the rights of marginalized voters to elect candidates of their choice have been found to supersede concerns about keeping legislative districts compact. The Florida state Supreme Court “said that it was more important not to diminish [voters’] abilities to elect candidates of their choice than to meet compactness,” as reporter Jacob Ogles summarized Smith’s apparent observations. Explaining (as Ogles reported) that he did “find persuasive the arguments that were made about the diminishment of African American votes in what was benchmark CD 5” (referring to a previous iteration of the fifth district), the judge said: “I am finding that the enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair district amendment.” Florida has a voter-approved state Constitutional amendment that’s supposed to restrict partisan manipulations of the redistricting process for state legislative districts, which is what Smith seemingly referenced. Officials were no doubt prepared to appeal the judge’s findings, meaning — even with the midterms approaching — the fight continues.

Lawson himself spoke out after the state legislature approved the DeSantis-backed configuration that tore up his district. “Once again, DeSantis is showing Florida voters that he is governing the state as a dictator,” Lawson said. “DeSantis bullied the Florida Legislature into approving his Republican-leaning congressional map during special session… Minority voters in Florida deserve congressional representation. It is astounding that someone tasked to lead the state is playing partisan politics for his own political aspirations.” DeSantis’s map also threatened to deliver 20 of the state’s 28 U.S. House seats to Republicans, a portion far higher than the little over a majority of Florida’s vote Trump won in 2020. In other words, that set-up doesn’t accurately reflect the political distribution of the state. Elsewhere, redistricting-related court battles are also continuing — oral arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court over a map that would give all four of the state’s Congressional seats to Republicans are scheduled for May 16.