TALLAHASSEE — The state Senate bowed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request and on Wednesday approved a congressional redistricting map that could increase Republican seats in Florida’s Congress, while halving those held by Democrats black.
The plan was advanced 24-15 in a party-line vote after Democrats repeatedly attacked the new borders as hyperpartisan and hurtful to black voters.
“When you start to trample on marginalized people…that’s when you have to do some self-reflection and see if what you’re doing is right,” said Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park , who added that DeSantis had usurped the mapping role that the state constitution assigns to the legislature.
But Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, rejected Democrats’ condemnation.
While the map could turn 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts into Republicans — and cut the number of seats eligible for a black candidate from four to two — Stargel insisted the election results are more linked to the quality of the candidate than to demographics.
“To say that these maps as they are drawn today harm minorities is not accurate,” Stargel said.
While the Senate was approving the map, the House began its debate on the proposal. Lawmakers are expected to wrap up the special session on Thursday and send the card to DeSantis for his signature, unlike in March, when a Congressional plan approved by the Legislative Assembly was opposed by the governor.
This plan had maintained limits that would have made the election of four black Democrats likely.
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Senator Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, told senators on Wednesday, “I don’t believe the governor is racist,” citing his appointment of several agency heads in his administration.
“But it’s fair to talk about the impact of politics on a people, on citizens,” Rouson said, noting that the map before lawmakers will certainly be challenged in court because of its effect on black voters.
Certain legal challenges
Rouson and other Democrats say the plan DeSantis crafted is an unconstitutional violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and state constitutional standards on fair districts that prohibit line drawing that, for minority voters , “reduces their ability to elect the representatives of their choice”.
In the governor’s redistricting proposal, U.S. Representative Al Lawson’s black plurality, Tallahassee District of Jacksonville, would be moved to a seat reserved for Duval County, which strongly supported former President Donald Trump in the last election.
DeSantis has declared Lawson’s current eight-county district unconstitutional because it is racist, shaped in large part to include a large black population.
U.S. Representative Val Demings, D-Orlando, who is leaving the House to challenge Republican Senator Marco Rubio this fall, would see her current Central Florida District 10 lose much of its voting-age black population on the DeSantis-backed map , a move seen as making her less likely to elect a black candidate.
DeSantis relies on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a North Carolina case that found it unconstitutional to racially gerrymander a seat, except in narrow cases, which the District of Jacksonville to Lawson’s Tallahassee may not meet.
The North Carolina ruling came two years after Lawson’s Congressional District 5 was created by the Florida Supreme Court, which resumed mapmaking in the last round of redistrictings every decade due to constitutional violations by Republican lawmakers who drew the state. initial cards.
DeSantis concludes that the state’s voter-approved equitable district minority standards conflict with federal decisions on redistricting and the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.
DeSantis helps the GOP in Congress
DeSantis’ approach — which could boost Florida’s Republican seats — would help the GOP’s national efforts to regain control of Congress in this fall’s midterm elections, when the governor will also be on the ballot, seeking re-election.
Republicans currently hold 16 seats in Florida’s 27-member congressional delegation, with the state adding one seat this year due to population gains in the 2020 census.
The once-a-decade redistricting is a central part of the battle for Congress this year, with only Florida, Missouri and New Hampshire yet to approve new maps. With its 28 seats, the result in Florida will be significant for both Democrats and Republicans.
The focus on Florida has also intensified after Democrats managed to boost their expected numbers in New York, Oregon and Illinois, while Republicans appear to have boosted their chances of adding seats from Texas and from Georgia.
While a court fight is certain to emerge from the map that is expected to gain final approval Thursday at the State House, lawmakers have also been working to guide how legal challenges will be heard.
Republican lawmakers attached to the proposed map a provision requiring that any lawsuit involving state matters be heard only in state court, barring a federal court from getting involved.
While federal courts could hear challenges based on federal issues, Democrats argued that the state restriction was designed to reduce the chance that any state issue would come before the U.S. District Judge in the area of Tallahassee, Mark Walker, who recently penned a searing 288-page ruling rescinding new voting restrictions he deemed racially discriminatory after they were approved last year by Florida lawmakers.
The proposed map also includes $1 million in taxpayer money set aside for the state to defend against legal challenges. During the redistricting battles spawned by the Legislature’s last attempt in 2012, lawmakers spent $11 million in legal fees just to get the state’s Congressional and Senate redistricting plans picked up and worked out. by the state Supreme Court.
John Kennedy is a reporter for the Florida Capital Bureau of the USA TODAY Network. He can be reached at [email protected], or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport