A Florida judge on Wednesday ruled that a congressional map approved by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and drawn by his staff is unconstitutional because it breaks up a district where Black voters can choose their representatives.
“I am finding that the enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair District Amendment … because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice,” Circuit Judge Layne Smith said during a court hearing conducted via Zoom on Wednesday.
“The enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair District Amendment, article three, section 20, because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.” Smith said.
Smith said the order will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March. The governor vetoed the bill and later called the Legislature back into special session. The Republican-dominated House and Senate chose not to draw a new map, and instead passed the DeSantis map.
You can view the maps the Florida Senate and House had proposed at this link.
The challenge to DeSantis’ map focuses on a north Florida district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. The district runs from Jacksonville west more than 200 miles to Gadsden County and nearly half of its population is Black.
Lawson issued the following statement Wednesday:
“I am pleased by the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court order to overrule DeSantis’ unconstitutional congressional map. The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice. DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions. It is critical to maintain congressional district five so minority voters have a voice at the ballot box in November. I am optimistic that future courts will also do what is right.”
Smith said that while the DeSantis map is more compact, the issue of allowing Black voters to choose their representatives is more important.
“The district that has since been enacted and signed into law by the governor does disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts,” Smith said in a video call with both sides. “The African American population is no way near a plurality or a majority.”
DeSantis’ office confirmed it will appeal.
“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level,” DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email. “We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster.”