Judge Declares Ron DeSantis-Backed Congressional Map Declared Unconstitutional

A Florida judge ruled a congressional map backed by GOP Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was unconstitutional Saturday and ordered lawmakers to craft an alternative. 

Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh concluded the redrawn districts authorized by the governor, specifically in northern Florida, violated the Fair Districts Amendments of the state constitution by “dismantling a congressional district that enabled Black voters to elect their candidates of choice under the previous plan.”

The Fair Districts Amendment, which is enshrined in the state constitution, states lawmakers cannot redraw congressional districts that “diminish” the ability of minority voters to elect someone of their choice.

Cord Byrd, Florida Secretary of Byrd, told Politico that he disagrees with Marsh’s ruling and that the state plans to appeal it to the state Supreme Court. 

The case came from a lawsuit brought by various groups, including Equal Ground, Florida Rising, Black Voters Matter, and the League of Women Voters of Florida sued over the new maps in April 2022, after Gov. 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 allows Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice,” said director of litigation and policy for the National Redistricting Foundation, Olivia Mendoza, which initiated the lawsuit. 

The Florida Republican picked up four congressional seats last year after DeSantis redrew the state’s districts, the margin of the current House majority. The new map also dismantled the seat in North Florida previously held by Democrat Representative Al Lawson. Lawson lost the election last year.

Gov. DeSantis vetoed earlier redistricting map

Governor DeSantis vetoed a redistricting map that would have benefitted the GOP in 16 of 28 districts and instead convinced the state legislature to put the map in place, which helped them with 20 of the 28 seats. 

In a move considered unprecedented, DeSantis injected himself into the redistricting process last year by vetoing the legislature’s, which is dominated by the GOP, map that preserved Lawson’s district. The governor called a special session, submitted his map, and demanded legislators accept it.

Advocates for voting rights welcomed a Supreme Court win. However, the fight isn’t over. In the lawsuit, the voting rights group claimed the redrawn congressional map violated federal and state voting rights protections for Black voters. 

Florida’s population of 22.2 million is 17% Black. Under the new maps, an area stretches around 360 miles from the Alabama border to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Georgia border to Orlando, located in central Florida. It is only represented by white congressional members. 

The Florida judge rejected defense arguments from GOP lawmakers that the state’s provision against eliminating or weakening minority-dominant districts violated the U.S. Constitution.