- State lawmakers in Florida achieved a significant legal win on Monday after a federal judge allowed them to challenge a specific aspect of the redistricting plan by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
- The lawsuit alleges that the redistricting plan violates the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment by reducing the voting power of Black residents in North Florida.
- The state argued that adhering to the amendment would infringe on the Equal Protection Clause, claiming a clash of constitutional principles.
Lawmakers in Florida achieved a significant legal win on Monday in the ongoing redistricting dispute after a federal judge granted them the ability to challenge a specific aspect of a constitutional amendment governing the drawing of electoral maps.
The lawsuit, brought forth by a coalition of organizations and individual plaintiffs, alleges that Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ redistricting plan violates the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment of 2010 by unfairly reducing the voting power of Black residents in North Florida.
The redistricting plan introduced by DeSantis resulted in the elimination of Congressional District 5, held by former Representative Al Lawson, which had previously encompassed North Florida stretching from Tallahassee to Duval County.
To counter the challenge, the state argued that adhering to the non-diminishment standard of the Fair Districts amendment for Congressional District 5 would infringe upon the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Their contention is predicated upon utilizing race as a primary factor in drawing the district contradicts the principles enshrined in the Equal Protection Clause.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have sought to prevent the state from employing this argument as a defense, contending that the “public official standing doctrine” prohibits the Legislature and Secretary of State Cord Byrd from challenging the constitutionality of a legal duty they are obliged to fulfill. The duty in question revolves around compliance with the 2010 Fair Districts amendment.
However, attorneys representing the House, Senate, and Byrd have contested the plaintiffs’ assertions, arguing that the process of drawing the map gave rise to a conflict between the Fair Districts amendment and the U.S. Constitution, thereby presenting a clash of constitutional principles.
Monday’s ruling is the latest of several challenges and injunctions associated with the case. Last year, in a 59-page emergency petition, plaintiffs requested the Florida Supreme Court to place a stay on the 1st District Court of Appeal’s order that initially re-validated DeSantis’ map.
“A stay of the First District’s decision is necessary to preserve this (Supreme) Court’s ability to adjudicate the parties’ appeals in time for the 2022 elections,” the filing said.
DeSantis also sought legal advice from the Florida Supreme Court in January of last year, inquiring as to whether his proposed redistricting plan would be valid in accordance with the Fair Districts standard.
In his letter to the Supreme Court, DeSantis inquired about the “non-diminishment standard” in the Florida Constitution, which prevents districts from being drawn that will diminish the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.
“Specifically, I ask whether the Florida Constitution’s non-diminishment standard requires that congressional districts be drawn to connect minority populations from distant and distinct geographic areas if doing so would provide the assembled minority group sufficient voting strength — although not a majority of the proposed district — to elect a candidate of its choice,” DeSantis wrote.
Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene in the case, Florida state judge Layne Smith granted a preliminary injunction on the proposed congressional map on May 11, 2022, preventing the proposed map from being used in the upcoming election cycle before being overturned.