A judge ruled on Saturday that Governor Ron DeSantis’ new congressional districts in North Florida go against the state’s constitution. The judge ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to create a new map.
This decision is a strong criticism of the governor. He had previously rejected the Legislature’s efforts to redraw Florida’s congressional maps. Instead, he pushed for his own map, which eliminated a North Florida seat held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.
Judge J. Lee Marsh stated in his ruling that the Enacted Plan (DeSantis’ map) diminishes Black voters’ ability to choose their preferred candidate, which goes against the Fair Districts Amendment in Florida’s constitution. This amendment prevents lawmakers from redrawing districts in a way that reduces minority voters’ influence.
DeSantis’ congressional map changed Lawson’s district, which used to include Black communities from just west of Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Lawson, who lost the last election, mentioned he might run again if lawmakers reinstate a similar configuration to his old seat.
Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd disagreed with the judge’s decision and said the state plans to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The case originated from a lawsuit by various groups, including Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground, Florida Rising, and the League of Women Voters of Florida. They sued after DeSantis signed the new congressional maps into law in April 2022.
Olivia Mendoza, director of litigation and policy for the National Redistricting Foundation, which initiated the lawsuit, called it a significant victory for fair representation for Black Floridians. She urged replacing the current discriminatory map with one that allows Black voters to choose their candidate.
Florida gained an additional congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth, bringing the total to 28 districts. The Republican-controlled Legislature initially created maps that favored Republicans in 16 of these districts, but DeSantis vetoed them. He persuaded the Legislature to adopt his map, which helped Republicans secure 20 out of 28 seats.
DeSantis argued that Lawson’s old district violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. However, the U.S. Supreme Court had recently sided with Black voters and invalidated Alabama’s congressional maps, suggesting a potential violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Lawson expressed satisfaction with the judge’s ruling but indicated it’s too early to decide his next steps. His main focus is ensuring fair representation for North Florida residents.