Judge says DeSantis’ congressional map is unconstitutional, orders lawmakers to draw new one

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A judge Saturday ruled that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ redrawn congressional districts in North Florida violate the state’s constitution and ordered the GOP-led Legislature to create a new map.

Judge J. Lee Marsh’s ruling is a rebuke to the governor, who previously vetoed the Legislature’s attempts to redraw Florida’s congressional maps and pushed lawmakers to approve his map that dismantled a North Florida seat formerly held by Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

“Plaintiffs have shown that the Enacted Plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” Marsh wrote in his ruling.

The section violated is commonly referred to as the Fair Districts Amendment, which states that lawmakers can’t redraw congressional districts that “diminish” minority voters’ ability to elect someone of their choice.

The congressional map pushed by DeSantis broke up Lawson’s district, which linked Black neighborhoods and towns stretching from just west of Tallahassee to Jacksonville. Lawson, who lost election last year, previously said he would consider running for his old seat if lawmakers reinstate it to a similar configuration as when he held it.

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, in a text message, said that he disagrees with the decision and that the state will appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

The case stems from a lawsuit brought by various groups, including Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground, Florida Rising and the League of Women Voters of Florida. The groups sued over the new maps in April 2022, after DeSantis signed the new congressional maps into law.

“This is a significant victory in the fight for fair representation for Black Floridians. As a result, the current discriminatory map should be replaced with a map that restores the Fifth Congressional District in a manner that gives Black voters the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice,” said Olivia Mendoza, director of litigation and policy for the National Redistricting Foundation, which initiated the lawsuit.

She added in her statement that DeSantis “pushed for the discriminatory map that targeted Black voters with precision.”

Florida gained one congressional seat in 2022 due to population growth for a total of 28 districts. The Republican-controlled Legislature last year enacted congressional maps that would have benefited Republicans in 16 of those districts.

But DeSantis vetoed those maps and instead convinced the Legislature to enact his, which paved the way for Republicans to win 20 out of 28 seats. Some Republicans credited DeSantis with helping the GOP win a slim majority in the House.

DeSantis had argued that Lawson’s old district violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, though the U.S. Supreme Court recently sided with Black voters and struck down Alabama’s congressional maps after the high court determined it likely violated the Voting Rights Act.

In a statement, Lawson said that he’s happy with the judge’s ruling but that it’s still too early for him to say what he’ll do next.

“My only goal right now is to ensure that fair representation is returned to the people of North Florida,” he said.