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Florida Judge Declares DeSantis Map Unconstitutional

May 11, 2022 by Dan McCue
Florida Judge Declares DeSantis Map Unconstitutional
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at Miami's Freedom Tower, on Monday, May 9, 2022, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida judge declared a congressional district map approved by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis unconstitutional Wednesday because it intentionally “Diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.”

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith made his announcement during a video call with attorneys for both sides of the legal dispute over the maps. 

He said he would issue a formal order Thursday or Friday to keep the maps from taking effect in November’s election.

Most troubling to Judge Smith is what the map, which was drafted by DeSantis’ staff, planned to do to the north Florida district now represented by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson.

At present the district extends nearly 200 miles across the northern tier of the state, from Jacksonville westward. Nearly half of the population is Black, and Lawson has represented it since it was created by court order in 2016.

The DeSantis map would eliminate the current district and “disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts,” Smith said.

As a result, he said, “the African American population is [nowhere] near a plurality or a majority.”

Smith said his order will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March. 

The governor vetoed the bill and later called the Legislature back into special session to redraw a map more to his liking. 

But the Republican-controlled state House and Senate balked, opening the door to approval of the DeSantis staff-drawn replacement.

An immediate appeal is expected to Florida’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court.

In a written statement, former Attorney General Eric Holder, chairman of the National Redistricting Foundation, said Judge Smith’s “swift ruling striking down the DeSantis map clarifies beyond doubt that the governor was not trying to follow the law by insisting the Legislature pass his map configuration — he was actively trying to break it. 

“The DeSantis map diminishes Black voting power in Florida in clear violation of the state constitution, and it is now up to the members of the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the law as it is written,” Holder said. “This decision is a step toward granting Black Floridians the opportunity to fairly elect representatives of their choosing to Congress. It is vital that the voices of all voters be heard and for that to be possible Florida needs a new, fair congressional map.”

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and @DanMcCue

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