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DeSantis Pushing Controversial District Map Ahead of Special Session

April 18, 2022 by Dan McCue
DeSantis Pushing Controversial District Map Ahead of Special Session
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters before signing a 15-week abortion ban into law Thursday, April 14, 2022, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Legislature was supposed to take up congressional redistricting during a special session that begins Tuesday, but the Republican leaders of both chambers have already punted the process back to the governor’s office.

The back and forth came after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a compromise congressional redistricting plan last week and called the legislators back into a special session.

However, the moves appeared to infuriate Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who jointly announced that redistricting staff would not produce a new map during the session.

Instead, they said the governor should come up with his own plan — which DeSantis has done.

The new map dramatically rejiggers the state’s current congressional districts, expanding the Republican advantage in the state by creating four additional GOP districts.

The DeSantis map would also eliminate two districts now represented by Black Democrats — Rep. Val Demings, who currently represents Florida’s 10th Congressional District and is running for U.S. Senate, and Rep. Al Lawson, who represents Florida’s 5th Congressional District.

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz responded by saying, “It is appalling, but not surprising, that the Republican Legislature has abdicated its constitutional duty to draft and pass congressional maps to the governor.

“As proven by the proposed map, Gov. DeSantis is hell-bent on eliminating Congressional seats where Florida’s minority communities have the ability to elect representatives of their choice and he is imposing his own partisan political preferences on Florida’s congressional map,” Diaz said.

“These actions fly in the face of Florida’s Fair District Amendments, the citizen’s initiative that added fairness standards to the Florida Constitution that must be followed when redrawing congressional and legislative districts.

“With almost 63% of the vote, Floridians approved Fair Districts because Floridians believe that voters should choose their politicians instead of politicians choosing their voters. Apparently, DeSantis neither believes in the will of the people’s vote nor their ability to choose their representatives,” he continued.

“If the Legislature proceeds with its intended course of action, the congressional map will be challenged in court,” Diaz said.

In a separate statement, Lawson said the governor’s proposed map is just an extension of “a continued scheme … to erase minority access districts in Congress in order to create more seats for the Republican Party.

“DeSantis is doing a disservice to Florida voters by playing partisan politics. This latest map clearly violates the Voting Rights Act as well as the U.S. and Florida Constitutions,” he said.

The governor, however, appears to be trying to turn the Voting Rights Act requirements on their head, by claiming a minority-majority district approved by court order seven years ago — and currently represented by Lawson — was actually a blatant racial gerrymander that failed to meet the “compactness” requirement of the law.

Legislators have been haggling for most of the year on a compromise that would have created a new Jacksonville-centered district in North Florida — dramatically altering the district now held by departing Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy — and getting rid of the minority-majority district that currently stretches across the top of the state.

DeSantis rejected that proposal on the grounds that he still found it not “race-neutral” enough.

Supporters of the governor’s position also point to two recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings to support his position.

The first, Cooper v. Harris, is a 2017 case in which the court ruled the North Carolina General Assembly relied too heavily on race when it created two new congressional districts following the 2010 Census.

Both of the districts were “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” the court said.

The second example they cite, Rucho v. Common Cause, is a 2019 case in which Chief Justice John Roberts controversially concluded that partisan gerrymandering is not reviewable by federal courts because it presents a political question beyond the jurisdiction of the courts.

Redistricting experts and DeSantis himself believe that if the Legislature goes ahead and approves the map during its special session, it will be tied up in legislation for weeks if not months.

“You’re going to have litigation either way,’’ DeSantis told reporters last week. “But I think the odds are higher that a map that is race-neutral will be approved.”

If the governor ultimately wins, the new map would likely give the Republicans a 20-8 edge in the Florida congressional delegation.

In doing so, it could also go a long way toward helping Republicans regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Democrats now hold a slim majority.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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