Florida Legislature presses Florida Supreme Court to uphold disputed redistricting plan

by | May 7, 2024

The Florida Legislature is advocating for the state Supreme Court to uphold a congressional redistricting plan that has been criticized for allegedly diluting the electoral influence of Black voters in North Florida.

Both chambers of the Florida Legislature are making a concerted push for the Florida Supreme Court to affirm a congressional redistricting plan that centered on the restructuring of a North Florida district.

Representatives for the legislature submitted a legal filing on Monday in defense of the 2022 redistricting effort that has been challenged for allegedly diminishing black voters’ influence.

Within the document, the Legislature argued that the petitioners failed to demonstrate that a district meeting both the state’s non-diminishment standard and the federal prohibition against racial gerrymandering could feasibly be drawn

“The Enacted Plan is constitutional,” the document reads. “This Court should affirm the First District’s conclusion that Petitioners failed to prove a violation of the Florida Constitution’s non-diminishment provision.”

The attorneys also criticized the trial court’s use of the public official standing doctrine, which typically prevents officials from disputing the constitutionality of statutes that impose duties upon them. The Legislature contends this doctrine was inappropriately applied to obstruct their defense of the redistricting plan.

“Florida’s public official standing doctrine generally prohibits public officials from challenging the constitutionality of statutes imposing duties upon them,” the brief states. “The trial court erred as a matter of law when it applied that doctrine to prohibit the Legislature from defending the constitutionality of the Enacted Plan on the basis that state constitutional provisions must yield to conflicting federal constitutional requirements. That decision should be reversed.”

Moreover, the Legislature accuses the trial court of misinterpreting their defense, treating it incorrectly as if it were a separate counterclaim or cross-claim alleging racial gerrymandering. They argue that this error led to a faulty legal assessment, which they are now seeking to have overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.

“The trial court erred in evaluating the Legislature’s defense of the Enacted Plan,” the attorneys wrote. “Rather than ruling on [the state’s] contention, the final judgment determined that the Legislative Respondents lacked standing to defend the Enacted Plan and failed to plead the elements necessary to prevail on a counterclaim or cross-claim for racial  gerrymandering against a hypothetical congressional district. These rulings constitute reversible error.”

The case traces back to changes made to the congressional boundaries that, according to the Plaintiffs, unfairly reduced the electoral power of black voters in Congressional District 5. This action, they argued, contravened the Florida Constitution’s non-diminishment provision, which safeguards minority voters from a reduction in their electoral influence.

A lower court initially ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs, deeming the new district boundaries unconstitutional for failing to meet both state and federal requirements that prevent racial gerrymandering. However, this decision was subsequently reversed by an appellate court. The appellate judges concluded that the plaintiffs did not successfully demonstrate the feasibility of any alternative district designs that would comply with the necessary legal standards.

During the 2022 redistricting cycle, the Florida Legislature initially sought to retain a district favorable to Black voters in North Florida. Contrary to this, DeSantis proposed a map eliminating such a district. The Legislature’s compromise attempts were ultimately vetoed by DeSantis, who then advanced his map, which led directly to the subsequent legal challenge.

In March, a federal appellate court affirmed the legality of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map, handing the governor a legal victory.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida upheld the state’s contested congressional map, ruling that the plaintiffs failed to prove the Florida Legislature acted with racial discrimination as a motivating factor in passing it. Thus, the plaintiffs’ claims of intentional vote dilution under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments failed. The ruling was based on the assertion that to succeed, plaintiffs needed to establish both a discriminatory purpose and effect, which could not be demonstrated, according to the panel of three judges.

“There’ll be another review from the Florida Supreme Court, but I don’t think you’re going to see anything different than what’s already been happening,” DeSantis said following the ruling. “The reality is we were right in 2022 to veto the map, we were right to sign the revised map and we were right when we said that they would be upheld in the courts as being constitutional.”


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