Redistricting stalls in Florida Supreme Court

by | Feb 2, 2022

 

 

Governor Ron DeSantis on Tuesday sought the legal advice of the Florida Supreme Court as to whether his proposed redistricting plan would be valid in accordance with the Fair Districts standard that amended the practice of drawing congressional district boundaries in such ways that they establish equitable practices in districts with high concentrations of minority voters.

DeSantis in recent weeks submitted his own redistricting proposal, an action scarcely undertaken by a sitting governor, that would remove the north Florida Congressional District 5, which is currently held by Democratic Representative Al Lawson. DeSantis’ map would likely provide the GOP with additional seats in Tallahassee, though the Republican-led Senate rarely disavowed the governor’s submission.

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. “Or, conversely, does the non-diminishment standard merely require that a minority population in a reasonably cohesive geographic area, where the population is not a majority but is nevertheless large enough to elect candidates of its choice, continue to be able to elect such candidates?”

Now, the Republican-majority House of Representatives has committed to staying put on current redistricting negotiations until the Supreme Court addresses DeSantis’ letter. The Court, however, is not bound to respond to DeSantis’ request immediately, even holding the power to reject the legal counsel.

Notably, Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston did not approve of the map approved in 2015, according to Politico. If the Court sides with DeSantis, it could lead to the removal of Lawson’s district.

Lawson was quick to condemn the action.

“While disappointing, Ron DeSantis’s continued assault on the rights of Black and minority voters is not a surprise. I hope that the Florida Supreme Court chooses to respect our separation of powers, rises above politics, and avoids wading into this partisan dispute. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to protect the right to vote for minority communities. Ron DeSantis’s effort to disenfranchise every minority voter north of Orlando is an act that will not go without a fight,” said the Congressman in a press release. “Congressional redistricting is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and entrusted to the state’s legislative branch. The Governor’s role in redistricting is limited to the veto of the final map; however, his request seeks advice on how it must be drawn. The Governor seeks to push aside the Florida Legislature and highjack this constitutional process for his own political goals.”

Redistricting negotiations in the Capitol have led to a back-and-forth affair between the two parties, as the once-in-a-decade redistricting efforts could directly affect the Congressional Districts of several incumbents across the state. Republican lawmakers are looking to go on the offensive and bolster their hold on the two chambers in the Capitol, while Democrats are playing opposition, attempting to uphold the current map with minimal changes.

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