“Blow to Ron DeSantis as judge says new congressional districts made it harder for Black voters to elect their preferred candidates
A state judge struck down new congressional districts in north Florida on Wednesday, saying that Governor Ron DeSantis, who drew the lines, had made it harder for Black voters to elect the candidate of their choice.
“I am finding the enacted map is unconstitutional because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice,” circuit judge Layne Smith said on Wednesday, according to the Tributary. Lawyers for the state of Florida are expected to immediately appeal the ruling, and the Florida supreme court will probably ultimately decide the case.
The decision dealt specifically with DeSantis’s decision to dismantle Florida’s fifth congressional district. It stretched from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, was 46% Black, and is currently represented by Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. DeSantis’s new district chopped the district up into four districts where Republican candidates would be favored to win.
A coalition of civic action groups and Florida voters immediately challenged the map, saying that they violated a provision in Florida’s constitution that says new districts cannot “diminish” the ability of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choosing. In late April, the plaintiffs asked the court to block the districts in northern Florida specifically from taking effect for the 2022 election. Smith ordered the state to adopt a map that maintained a fifth congressional district stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, according to the Tributary.
DeSantis has fumed against the current configuration of the fifth congressional district, saying considerations over race were too much of a factor when the district was drawn. Voting rights advocates say the district ensures Black voters in northern Florida do not have their votes diluted.
The Florida map is one of the most aggressively gerrymandered maps in the US. Republicans currently have a 16-11 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation, but DeSantis’s plan would add an additional four GOP-friendly seats, increasing that advantage to 20-8 (Florida is gaining an additional US House seat because of population growth). It’s an effort seen as a critical part of Republican efforts to retake control of the US House in the midterm elections.
DeSantis has also expressed skepticism about anti-gerrymandering language, including the anti-diminishment provision, in Florida’s constitution. He said in March that he believes courts could ultimately rule that the language, which also includes prohibitions against partisan gerrymandering, violate the US constitution’s 14th amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.“