Preview: Florida’s redistricting process back in federal court next week

by | Sep 21, 2023

  • A politically important legal showdown over congressional redistricting in Florida is set to begin in federal court next week.
  • A three-judge panel will hear arguments in a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination in recently enacted congressional maps.
  • But state officials say the current maps aimed for geographical and political coherence, and specifically avoided racial considerations.
  • The state’s case specifically cites Governor DeSantis’ veto memorandum of a previously proposed racially gerrymandered map as a cornerstone in their defense.

A legal showdown over congressional redistricting is set to kickoff next week, with the state of Florida preparing to defend itself in a federal courtroom, while simultaneously appealing a state court ruling on the same matter. Slate for a hearing next week, a three-judge federal panel will consider arguments in a lawsuit claiming the recently enacted congressional map is racially discriminatory and violates the U.S. Constitution.

Meanwhile, an appeal is underway challenging a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that the redistricting plan contravenes the Florida Constitution.

Both lawsuits center around the alteration of a North Florida district, formerly a stronghold for Black Democrat Al Lawson. Despite changing demographics and a growing Republican voter base in Florida, plaintiffs claim that the redrawing of the electoral map was the primary factor that led to the election of Republicans in all North Florida congressional districts last November.

While advocacy organizations like the NAACP and Common Cause Florida claim that the redrawing of Congressional District 5 constitutes “intentional discrimination,” state officials say the redistricting plan is just the opposite, seeking to create districts that are geographically and politically coherent because they intentionally and specifically are not based on racial factors.

A veto memorandum issued by Governor Ron DeSantis serves as a cornerstone in the state’s defense. The Governor insisted that creating a district based on racial considerations is counterproductive and violates the principle of race-neutrality as mandated by the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. In essence, DeSantis argues that heeding the plaintiffs’ demands would necessitate “racial gerrymandering,” a term that refers to the manipulation of electoral boundaries to favor one racial group over others, which is unconstitutional.

By pointing out the pitfalls of race-based redistricting, the state’s attorneys insist that DeSantis and the Florida Legislature were vigilant in avoiding any discriminatory intent. J. Alex Kelly, a key aide to DeSantis involved in the redistricting process, is said to have focused on creating districts that respected both political and geographical boundaries, rather than considering racial elements that underpin the plaintiff’s case.

Notably, the state contends that the ongoing state-level appeal should be allowed to conclude before any decisions are made in the federal case. This viewpoint is opposed by the NAACP and Common Cause, who argue that delaying the federal lawsuit might jeopardize the implementation of their preferred race-based maps, expected to help Democrats, ahead of the 2024 elections.


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