DeSantis says he wants a ‘race-neutral’ map of congressional districts

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis confirmed Tuesday that the congressional redistricting map he is proposing will dismantle a congressional district designed to help black voters living in North Florida’s former plantation territories.

“I think what they’re going to produce will be something that’s going to be acceptable to people and obviously we’ll get my signature for coming up with it,” he said at a press conference in Miami. “However, North Florida will be drawn neutrally for the race.”

DeSantis reminded lawmakers of a special redistricting session next week to redraw Florida’s congressional districts. On Monday, House and Senate leaders announced that after successfully passing a court-approved legislative map, they would leave the work of drawing the map to the Congressional plan to the governor.

Related: Florida legislature won’t draft new redistricting map, deferring to DeSantis

DeSantis quoted Cooper v. Harrisa 2017 case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled 5 to 3 that the North Carolina General Assembly engaged in “unconstitutional racial gerrymanders” by relying too heavily on race when it attracted two congressional districts as a result of the 2010 census.

DeSantis said the current Congressional District 5, which stretches across North Florida from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, connecting urban and rural black voters in an area that was home to the slave plantations of the 1800s, ” divides people based on the color of their skin.”

“That’s wrong,” he said. “That’s not how we governed in the state of Florida. … There has never been a district of this length and shape that has been justifiable.

DeSantis argued that if lawmakers retain Congressional District 5, which is held by U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a black Democrat, the map will be challenged as unconstitutional, and if lawmakers dismantle the district, as he wishes, the card will also be subject to disputes.

“You’re going to have litigation anyway,” he said. “…But I think there’s a better chance that a race-neutral map will be approved.” And I think it’s more likely that whoever made this kind of intentional drawing will be found to be in violation of the 14th Amendment.

Governor, Legislature disagree on this map

The governor’s comments were the most explicit yet, as tensions over the fate of redistricting have festered for months. In January, the Republican governor broke with tradition and proposed his own congressional redistricting map that gave Republicans a 20-8 advantage over Democrats. It also contradicted the legal approach taken by Republican leaders in the House and Senate, which preserved the four black congressional districts approved by the courts in 2015.

By contrast, DeSantis’ proposal eliminated North Florida’s black congressional district, weakened a black district in Orlando, and left the state with only two districts that would reliably elect black candidates for office.

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Lawmakers tried to appease the governor by passing a map that created a district centered on Jacksonville in North Florida while dismantling the current district that spans the top of the state. But DeSantis vetoed Congress’s redistricting plan and argued that the protections the map offered black voters in Jacksonville and Orlando were an “unlawful gerrymander” under the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment.

This week, lawmakers signaled they were willing to let the governor do whatever he wanted as long as he took the lead. A memo released Monday by House Speaker Chris Sprows, R-Palm Harbor, and Senate Speaker Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said lawmakers would not come up with their own Congressional reshuffle, but rather use whatever the governor proposes.

Meanwhile, voters and advocacy groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now have criticized the governor’s interpretation of the law and asked a federal court to declare Florida’s congressional redistricting deadlocked. The state must have its congressional card in place in time for candidates to qualify for congressional districts by the June 17 deadline.

Related: Another lawsuit asks courts to define Florida’s congressional map

A three-judge panel on Monday scheduled a trial to begin May 12 as part of the federal trial if the legislature and the governor do not agree. The court also denied a motion by Secretary of State Laurel Lee to stay the case. Both parties have proposed the names of redrawing experts that the court could appoint as special masters to draw the maps.

Was the legislative note a surprise?

Ellen Freidin, chief executive of FairDistricts Now, a nonpartisan organization that worked to pass the 2010 constitutional amendment to impose new redistricting standards in Florida, said DeSantis’ approach to redistricting was to “trampling on the rights of minority voters and backtracking”. in an effort to “improve his standing with voters in Florida and the country.”

On Tuesday, DeSantis appeared surprised by the memo from Sprows and Simpson, saying he expected his staff to talk behind the scenes with legislative staff to reach consensus on a plan they would come up with.

“I thought my legal office worked with the House and the Senate to try to find a compromise that everyone would agree on,” he said.

After lawmakers were caught a decade ago allowing political operatives to influence the redistricting process in violation of the Constitution, lawmakers established a strict protocol to restrict public participation and limit access to the redistricting process. this time.

DeSantis was asked on Tuesday if he would keep the document file to show “what was your intent or what was the intent to draw these districts.” Instead of responding, the governor swiveled.

“Those involved will testify in front of the Legislative Assembly about the product that was created,” he said. “And so, you know, this is kind of my first foray, and I don’t really know how this all works.”

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