Alleging that the map is “intentionally racially discriminatory,” voting rights groups on Friday night sought approval to reorganize a federal lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of Florida’s new congressional redistricting plan.
In documents filed in federal court in Tallahassee, the groups and five individual plaintiffs alleged that the plan Governor Ron DeSantis pushed through the Legislature should be blocked because it will reduce — or eliminate — the chances that candidates blacks are elected in North Florida and the Orlando area.
“This is an extraordinary case in that all factors point in one direction – the governor created the enacted plan, at least in part for the heinous purpose of discriminating against black Floridians by limiting their ability to vote, elect the candidates of their choice. and to participate fully in the electoral process,” an amended proposed complaint stated. “The totality of the circumstances reveals that Governor DeSantis created and signed the plan into law with a discriminatory intent – namely, to reduce the representation of Black Floridians in Congress.”
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in March as DeSantis and lawmakers were at an impasse in the decade-long redistribution process. The original version of the lawsuit argued that the judges should intervene to ensure that the revamped constituencies are defined before this year’s election, because continuing to use the current constituencies would be unconstitutional.
But after the Legislature passed the DeSantis-backed redistricting plan in a special session in April, the state argued the lawsuit was moot. In court papers filed Friday night, plaintiffs’ attorneys acknowledged the original issues were moot, but sought leave to file an amended lawsuit targeting the new redistricting plan.
If that approval is not granted, they said they would file a new lawsuit to challenge the redistricting plan. The plaintiffs included groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now, while the amended complaint would add the Florida State Conference of the NAACP.
The documents argue that the redistricting plan violates the equal protection rights of Black Floridians under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and violates the 15th Amendment’s guarantee that the right to vote cannot be “denied or abridged” by reason of race.
DeSantis called the April special session after vetoing a redistricting plan lawmakers passed. During the special session, the Republican-dominated House and Senate quickly passed a map proposed by DeSantis’ office.
The map is expected to increase the number of Republican congressional seats in Florida from 16 to 20, based on the results of the 2020 election. In addition, it would reduce the number of districts likely to elect black Democrats from four to two – reshaping completely out of North Florida’s 5th Congressional District and reducing the percentage of black voting-age population in the Orlando-area 10th Congressional District.
District 5, which has sparked the fiercest debate, now stretches from Jacksonville west to Tallahassee and has elected U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a black Democrat. Under the new plan, the district would be condensed into the Jacksonville area and would be eligible to elect a Republican.
During this year’s regular legislative session, the Senate passed an initial proposal that would have retained the current configuration of District 5. Such a configuration was also included as a backup in a later two-map redistricting plan that the legislature passed — and DeSantis vetoed.
DeSantis criticized the sprawling District 5 setup as unconstitutionally gerrymander. In a March 29 memo, DeSantis General Counsel Ryan Newman argued that maintaining such a configuration would violate the Equal Protection Clause “because it allocates voters primarily on the basis of race but is not narrowly adapted to achieve a compelling state interest”.
“The district is not compact, does not conform to usual political or geographic boundaries, and is oddly shaped to include minority populations from western Leon County and Gadsden County while excluding non-minority populations from the east of Leon County. Given that this version of District 5 clearly subordinates traditional constituency criteria to avoid dwindling of the voting-age minority population, there is no doubt that race was the “predominant factor motivating the Legislative Assembly’s decision.” to draw this district (in previous legislative plans),” Newman’s memo, partially citing legal precedent.
But documents filed Friday night described the new redistricting plan as “infected with racial discrimination against black Floridians.” In addition to changes to Districts 5 and 10, he said the map is “splintering” black communities into other areas of the state.
“It flagrantly flouts the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause prohibition on laws enacted for an odious purpose, that is, intentional discrimination on the basis of race,” the amended complaint said. proposed. “It also flagrantly ignores the Fifteenth Amendment promise that the right to vote shall not be denied or curtailed on the basis of race.”
In addition to seeking to have the plan declared unconstitutional, the proposed amendment complaint would seek to set a “reasonable time” for the state to pass a new redistricting plan. If such a plan were not adopted, the court would have to order a new plan of division.
Meanwhile, the plan passed in the special session also faces a challenge in Leon County Circuit Court. This case argues that the District 5 redesign violates a 2010 constitutional amendment — known as the Fair Districts Amendment — that establishes redistricting standards in Florida. Judge Layne Smith has scheduled a hearing for May 11 on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction against the plan.
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