Florida Governor Pushing Envelope With Redistricting Map Move
WASHINGTON — Activists from across the state were expected to rally outside the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee Tuesday as legislators convened for a special session at which they’re expected to approve a controversial redistricting plan proposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis originally called the special session with the intention of the Legislature drawing up the new map of congressional districts, but after leaders in the state Senate and House balked at the plan, the governor went a step further and had a map drafted himself.
As previously reported in The Well News, the new map dramatically rejiggers the state’s current congressional districts while also appearing to turn nearly 60 years of voting rights law on its head.
Not only does the DeSantis map expand the Republican advantage in the state by creating four additional GOP districts, it will also eliminate two Black-majority districts, at least one of which the governor has described as an illegal gerrymander based on race.
“Every state is different and every redistricting cycle is different, but it’s fairly rare for a governor to be as active as Gov. DeSantis has been, particularly in light of the fact there’s one-party control of the state government in Florida,” said Michael Li, an expert on redistricting law at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“I can’t think of another situation where a governor has vetoed a map created by his or her own party and replaced it with one of their own,” he said.
At present, the DeSantis map is expected to be passed by the state Legislature no later than Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
Among those strongly criticizing the move is the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is urging the Florida Legislature to reject DeSantis’ map and draw a new, fairer one, of their own.
The League of Women Voters of Florida is urging the Florida Legislature to fulfill its constitutionally mandated duty to draw fair congressional districts.
“Article III of the state constitution explicitly places the task of drawing new congressional voting boundaries on the state Legislature, not the governor,” the group said in a press release.
“Fulfilling that duty is vital to Florida’s separation of powers and the time-honored system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state government,” it said.
“We’re calling upon the Florida House and Senate to find their courage and memories of their early session promises to uphold the Fair Districts Amendments and Voting Rights Act,” said Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “The Legislature’s irresponsible plan to capitulate to the aggression of the governor nullifies the constitutionally mandated separation of the three branches of government and is moving in the direction of an autocracy.”
Li said in most cases when a governor intervenes in redistricting, it’s because the voters have elected a divided government.
“In cases such as Florida, where one party wins most elections, typically the governor will stand out of the way and let the Legislature do its thing,” he said.
“The other thing you might see is redistricting decisions made in consultation with the Republican or Democratic members of Congress, which is not unexpected,” Li continued. “On the one hand, they’re concerned about the other party, but on the other, they’re also concerned about themselves and whether they’ll be able to run for and win reelection.”
As for what DeSantis did with the map, that is another story. Li said it “certainly seems like an attack on Black political power.”
“I mean, on the one hand, he is pointing to the Black-majority district created by court order in North Florida and saying, ‘this is unconstitutional under the federal Constitution because you’ve intentionally drawn a performing Black district and that’s racial gerrymandering,’” Li said.
“On the other hand, he’s also arguing that this is a non-performing Black district under the Florida Constitution and must be voided. So which is it? Is it a performing Black district or a non-performing Black district? It can’t be both,” he continued. “It’s like he’s chasing down somebody who’s chomping at the bit for a court fight.”
Li predicted the DeSantis version of the congressional district map will be challenged in court “almost as soon as they vote to pass it.”
“People are preparing to run in those districts, so I would expect this to wind up in court sooner rather than later,” he said, adding, “it’s kind of like a multi-act play. Act one is creating the original map. Act two is rejecting that map. Act three is passing the governor’s map, and act four is defending them in court.”
Florida, of course, isn’t the only state embroiled in controversy over its redistricting plan. Neither Missouri nor New Hampshire has yet to map a redistricting plan.
“In Missouri, the argument is over whether there should be a seven-to-one Republican advantage in the congressional delegation or a six-to-two ratio,” Li said. “In New Hampshire, the norm is for there to be one Republican seat in Congress, and one Democratic seat, but Gov. Chris Sununu wants them both to be more competitive because he thinks [Republicans] can win them both this year.”
Li said if he were to hazard a guess, he expects the Florida situation will resolve itself first, followed by New Hampshire and then Missouri, “which seems kind of stuck for now.”
“There’s always litigation over maps and there are always some states that sort of go off the rails,” he said when asked if this has been the wildest and wooliest redistricting season he’s ever seen.
“I certainly think people are being really aggressive this time around, particularly when it comes to the use of race in redistricting,” he said. “People are pushing some very aggressive legal positions which are really out of line with what people have traditionally understood [about] how voting rights laws are supposed to work.
“But I think they’re betting on having more conservative courts, and you know, nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he continued. “The feeling is, ‘Why not take a more restrictive position on what is protected and what is not, and then see if the courts go along with you?’”
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