FL judge invalidates redrawn congressional district map endorsed by DeSantis

September 3, 2023

In a frustrating development for Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a judge in the Sunshine State has ruled that a new congressional district map endorsed by the former is violative of the state constitution and must be redrawn, as the Washington Examiner reports.

According to Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh, the DeSantis'-approved districts – particularly those in the northern part of the state, ran afoul of the Fair Districts Amendments in Florida constitution, finding that they dismantled a “congressional district that enabled Black voters to elect their candidates of choice under the previous plan.”

Fifth District controversy

As Florida Politics explains, the dispute largely surrounded the elimination of the state's 5th Congressional District, once spanning the area between Jacksonville and Tallahassee – a zone running along Interstate 10.

Voters in the district had sent Black Democrats Al Lawson and Corrine Brown to Congress, an outcome that would have been impossible under the new district boundaries, which eliminated the seat the occupied and arguably undermined minority citizens' ability to elect a representative of their choosing.

Marsh held that “plaintiffs have shown that the Enacted Plan results in the diminishment of Black voters' ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” also noting that “all of the districts that replaced” the 5th District “are majority white in voter registration, that white voters cast the majority of votes in both primary and general elections.”

This, according to the judge, represented a violation of the Fair Districts Amendment, which prohibits lawmakers from adjusting congressional districts and thereby “diminish” minority voters' ability to elect the representatives they desire.

Democrats applaud ruling

The case at issue was brought by organizations including Black Voters Matter, Florida Rising, Equal Ground, and the League of Women Voters of Florida in the spring of last year after the governor signed the district maps into law, and members of those groups are now among those celebrating their court victory.

Olivia Mendoza of the National Redistricting Foundation opined, “This is a significant victory in the fight for fair representation for Black Floridians. As a result, the current discriminatory map should be replaced with a map that restores the Fifth Congressional District in a manner that gives Black voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”

Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said, “This decision is vindication for Black voters in North Florida who had their representation unfairly and illegally stripped from them as part of Ron's political games. We applaud Judge Marsh for a fair decision that defended both the rights of the people and the Florida Constitution.”

Daniel Henry of the Duval County Democrats agreed, saying, “From the beginning, we have advocated for fair maps that protect residents' rights to have a voice in the U.S. House of Representatives. This ruling reaffirms our belief that the maps passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature, last year, illegally reduced Black voters' electoral power and silenced their voices.”

Next steps

With Marsh's ruling now in the books, the Republican-led state legislature must now set about drawing a new map capable of passing constitutional muster.

That is not to say that the decision will go unchallenged, according to Politico, as Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd told the outlet via text that he believes the case was wrongly decided and that an appeal to the state Supreme Court is planned.

Also surely disappointed in the outcome is DeSantis, whose actions in vetoing prior congressional district maps and persuaded the legislature to enact his preferred boundaries, paving the way for Republicans to win 20 of 28 available House seats.

Whether Marsh's interpretation of the law in this case ultimately withstands state Supreme Court review, or the prior district map supported by DeSantis is allowed to stand, only time will tell.

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