GOP Gerrymandered Florida Maps Stopped By Judge

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Florida Judge Layne Smith has lifted an automatic stay on his previous findings against a Congressional redistricting plan signed by Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. In this instance, stay refers to a halt to legal matters that in this case kept Smith’s undoing of a certain part of DeSantis’s redistricting plan from remaining in force. Smith’s findings were tentatively set aside. Without removing the stay and shoring up his previous ruling, Florida officials could have ended up using the map the judge found to be in violation of Florida’s Constitution.

The stay on Smith’s earlier ruling against DeSantis’s map was sparked by an appeal from state officials to the 1st District Court of Appeal. “It’s crunch time now, and this involves fundamental constitutional rights,” the judge remarked. Florida authorities sought the re-imposition of the stay after Smith’s decision to lift it, although it’s unclear at this point exactly how long the appeals process following Smith’s ruling might last — meaning what Florida officials want to do could seemingly let them have the DeSantis-backed redistricting plans in effect for upcoming elections even if they’re later struck down somewhere higher up in the judiciary. One of the issues with DeSantis’s plan is that a northern district currently represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D), who is Black, was broken up across four districts in the new arrangement, and an earlier conclusion from Smith demanded a map be used that was much closer to the current shape of Lawson’s district.

Specifically, Smith found the DeSantis plan to be in violation of provisions approved by voters for the state Constitution in 2010 that demanded fairness in the district line-drawing process. Those provisions include a block on making it less possible for minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.” “Monday’s decision to lift the stay could lead to supervisors beginning to use the map that Smith ordered,” as newly reported in the Miami Herald.

DeSantis’s side has seemingly characterized the original configuration of Lawson’s district that was roughly upheld by Smith as somehow penalizing white voters. According to arguments from the state’s legal team, the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution bans “race-based sorting of voters” without the presence of a “compelling interest” and a “narrowly tailored” method to meet the interest, something they’re claiming applies here — and it would seem in this line of reasoning that the voters meant to be understood as penalized by this arrangement are white Floridians and those otherwise not represented by the composition of Lawson’s district — a ridiculous-sounding argument from the state. DeSantis’s map gave 20 of the state’s 28 U.S. House seats to Republican-leaning constituencies — and it’s those behind Lawson’s district supposedly in the wrong? Florida isn’t over 71 percent Republican, like the breakdown of DeSantis’s map suggests. Trump won there in 2020 with a little over a majority of the vote — 51.2 percent.