Federal suit filed against Florida Senate map for alleged racial bias

by | Apr 11, 2024

Five Tampa Bay residents have filed a federal lawsuit against Florida Senate’s redistricting map, claiming the 2022 redrawing of Senate Districts 16 and 18 constitutes racial gerrymandering in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

A federal lawsuit has been filed by five residents of the Tampa Bay area challenging the constitutionality of the Florida Senate’s redistricting map.

The suit, lodged in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, names Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd as Defendants. The Plaintiffs, Kéto Nord Hodges, Meiko Seymour, Jarvis El-Amin, Jennifer Garcia, and Jacqueline Azis, contend that the 2022 redrawing of Senate Districts 16 and 18 constitutes racial gerrymandering, violating the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

The Plaintiffs contend that the redistricting process improperly prioritized racial considerations, particularly aiming to cluster Black voters within District 16. This district is described as unnaturally extending across Tampa Bay to link Black communities in Tampa and St. Petersburg, thereby allegedly diminishing their representation in adjacent District 18.

“District 16 stretches across the waters of Tampa Bay to connect disparate and distinct Black communities in Tampa and St. Petersburg, packing more than half of the region’s Black residents into that district,” the lawsuit reads. “As a result, adjacent District 18 is artificially stripped of Black residents, diminishing their influence and voice in elections there. When the State redistricts predominantly based on racial considerations, the Equal Protection Clause requires the State’s use of race both to be narrowly tailored and to serve a compelling interest.”

The lawsuit criticizes the state’s approach for not being “narrowly tailored” to meet a “compelling interest,” legal requirements for justifying the use of race in redistricting. The plaintiffs suggest that alternative district configurations could have met constitutional requirements without compromising race-neutral redistricting principles such as compactness and respect for community boundaries.

The complaint additionally posits that other redistricting arrangements could have maintained the integrity of Black voters’ influence without violating race-neutral redistricting principles, such as maintaining district compactness and respecting existing political subdivision boundaries.

Seeking redress, the plaintiffs ask the court for a series of remedies: a declaration that Districts 16 and 18 violate the U.S. Constitution, a permanent injunction against holding elections under the current map, and an order compelling the creation of new districts that comply with constitutional guidelines.

At present, District 16 is served by Sen. Darryl Rouson while Sen. Nick DeCeglie represents District 18.

“Map-drawing in which race predominates, subordinating traditional race-neutral redistricting considerations to racial considerations, is presumptively invalid under the Equal Protection Clause,” the suit continues. “This type of excessively race-based linedrawing is constitutional only where it satisfies strict scrutiny—where it is narrowly tailored to advance a compelling government interest. The Challenged Districts fall far short of this exacting standard.”


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