Florida judge strikes down DeSantis-backed voting map as unconstitutional

Florida judge strikes down DeSantis-backed voting map as unconstitutional

A judge in Florida has ruled in favor of voting rights groups that filed a lawsuit against a congressional redistricting map approved by Ron DeSantis in 2022. Voting rights groups had criticized the map for diluting political power in Black communities.

In the ruling, Leon county circuit judge J Lee Marsh sent the map back to the Florida legislature to be redrawn in a way that complies with the state’s constitution.

“Under the stipulated facts (in the lawsuit), 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 the ruling.

The ruling is expected to be appealed by the state, likely putting the case before the Florida supreme court.

The lawsuit focused on a north Florida congressional district previously represented by the Democrat Al Lawson, who is Black. Lawson’s district was carved up into districts represented by white Republicans.

DeSantis vetoed a map that initially preserved Lawson’s district in 2022, submitting his own map and calling a special legislative session demanding state legislators accept it. Judge Marsh rejected claims from Florida Republicans that the state’s provision against weakening or eliminating minority-dominant districts violated the US constitution.

“This is a significant victory in the fight for fair representation for Black Floridians,” said Olivia Mendoza, director of litigation and policy for the National Redistricting Foundation, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, in a statement.

“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.”

In 2022, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus labeled the DeSantis-approved congressional map as voter suppression.

The map resulted in Florida Republicans picking up four congressional seats in the state, increasing Republican representatives from 16 to 20 out of 28 seats and helping Republicans seal a slim majority in the House in 2022.

Prior to the court decision, the state of Florida and voting rights groups that had filed the lawsuit reached an agreement that narrowed the scope of the lawsuit to focus on Lawson’s congressional seat, though there is still a separate lawsuit in federal court over the state’s congressional maps.

The court decision is the latest ruling in the south against Republican-drawn congressional maps over concerns the redistricting reduced Black voting power.

In June, the US supreme court overturned a Republican drawn map in Alabama and shortly after lifted a hold on a case involving redistricting in Louisiana, returning the case to a lower court, increasing the likelihood Louisiana will be required to create a second congressional district that empowers Black voters.