A judge in North Florida nullified the region’s congressional districts this Saturday, counteracting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ blatant disregard of anti-gerrymandering measures. The ruling determined that DeSantis’ map unjustly decreased the electoral strength of Black voters.
Gov. DeSantis had put forth an argument that the state’s Fair Districts Amendment clashed with the U.S. Constitution, suggesting that mandatory protections for Black voters contradicted the Equal Protection Clause. However, this stance was unequivocally dismissed by Second Judicial Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh. Marsh’s decision has the potential to significantly impact both political chambers in Tallahassee and communities in Jacksonville. It could lead to the creation of a Democrat-leaning district where Black residents of Jacksonville would possess increased political influence.
Marsh did not entertain DeSantis’ assertion that the Fair Districts Amendment conflicted with the U.S. Constitution. He pointed out that the Secretary of State and the Legislature lacked the grounds to even present such an argument.
Marsh stated, “The Secretary can point to no case finding the non-diminishment language of the Fair Districts Amendment, nor the comparable Section 5 language of the Voting Rights Act, to violate the Equal Protection provision of the 14th Amendment.” He further emphasized, “The judiciary solely determines the law’s interpretation, including if provisions of the Florida Constitution are unconstitutional.”
The scope of Marsh’s decision was narrowed to North Florida when claims regarding other districts’ potential violations were withdrawn by the plaintiffs.
This verdict may lead to the reestablishment of a district reminiscent of the one mandated by the Florida Supreme Court in the previous decade. This district spanned areas from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, including Gadsden County. U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee, had formerly represented this district.
In response to DeSantis’ legal team, which argued that the aforementioned district was a product of racial gerrymandering, Marsh emphasized his respect for the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions.
It is expected that both parties will collaborate to expedite the appeals process, aiming for a revised map to be in place ahead of the 2024 elections, provided the appellate courts issue a decision before that.
Both sides plan to propose a timeline that would allow Florida’s apex court to decide by the end of this year. A mutual agreement reached earlier ensures that the state will seek a waiver of the customary hold on trial court rulings during the appeal.
In the event that a new map is not presented by the Legislature, both parties have consented to the creation of a district ranging from Duval to Gadsden, mirroring the Legislature’s original proposal.
DeSantis had previously disapproved the Legislature’s proposed congressional map, opting for his own which altered the demographics to favor a predominantly white, Republican-leaning district. He acknowledged that his map did not adhere to the state’s ‘non-diminishment’ criteria, which safeguard the electoral strength of racial minorities.
Judge Marsh, during a prior hearing, voiced concerns over Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s absence in defending the state constitution. He also conveyed reservations about making such a broad judgement.
If the Florida Supreme Court aligns with DeSantis, the implications could extend nationally. This would suggest that the court, where a majority have been appointed by DeSantis, would be taking a more aggressive legal stance than even the U.S. Supreme Court. This could promote a conservative viewpoint which deems racial considerations as fundamentally flawed, even when it aims to uphold Black voters’ political voice.
DeSantis’ rejection of the initial map and the subsequent acceptance of his revised version by the GOP-majority Legislature led to notable unrest. Representatives Angie Nixon from Jacksonville and Travaris McCurdy from Orlando instigated a sit-in as a form of protest. Following this, DeSantis nullified all budget allocations related to Nixon, and legislative authorities relocated her office to the Capitol’s basement.