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Lawsuit asks court to draw Florida’s congressional map

The Florida Legislature has approved congressional maps, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he’ll veto.
A gavel rests on a judge's bench.
A gavel rests on a judge's bench. [ Tribune News Service ]
Published Mar. 12

TALLAHASSEE — A group of Florida voters on Friday asked a Tallahassee judge to preemptively settle a potential impasse between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature over proposed congressional redistricting lines.

The lawsuit, which names Secretary of State Laurel Lee and Attorney General Ashley Moody as defendants, seeks to have the court draw a congressional map that reflects the state’s population growth over the past decade.

The lawsuit also asked the court to block the state from “implementing, enforcing, or giving any effect to” the state’s current congressional districts, arguing that they fail to take into account Florida’s population increase of 2.7 million people since the 2010 census.

The legal challenge, filed in the 2nd Judicial Circuit in Leon County, argued that the continued use of the 2010 lines would fail to provide Florida with the additional congressional district it has been allocated due to the population growth.

“Due to these population shifts, Florida’s existing congressional districts are unconstitutionally malapportioned,” the lawsuit said.

Friday’s lawsuit comes as DeSantis and the Florida Legislature remain at odds over a sprawling North Florida district currently held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat who is Black.

Related: DeSantis says he'll veto congressional map. Florida lawmakers passed it anyway.

The House crafted an unusual two-map plan to try to mollify DeSantis, who, in part, contends that the district is unconstitutional and should be condensed in the Jacksonville area.

The House plan includes a “primary” map and a “backup” map, which would be used if courts reject the primary version.

The House-drawn primary map takes a similar approach to a map DeSantis crafted for the district in Northeast Florida. The backup plan would be more in line with what the Senate proposed, continuing to stretch the district across North Florida.

But even before the House and Senate approved the House plan (SB 102), DeSantis announced the effort was dead upon arrival and that he doesn’t “bluff.”

The plaintiffs pointed to DeSantis’ comments to bolster arguments that the court should intervene.

“There is thus little doubt that the Legislature’s proposed congressional districting plan will be vetoed by the governor,” the lawsuit said. “And given this history, there is little hope that the governor and the Legislature will overcome their differences. The legislative supporters of this plan do not have enough votes to override a veto, and there is not enough time left in the legislative session to bridge the deep division between the state’s political branches: the current legislative session ends today, March 11.”

The lawsuit was announced Friday by Democracy Docket, a progressive media platform founded by Democratic voting rights attorney Marc Elias, whose law firm is among those representing the nine Floridians from Orange, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Marion, Lee and Duval counties.

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Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, told reporters Friday that it’s too early to say what will happen if DeSantis vetoes the legislative proposal.

“If the governor vetoes the congressional map, it’ll either be handled again through the Legislature or through the court system,” Simpson said. “And we don’t know the result of that yet. So, I don’t really know that it would be proper to comment.”

As of Friday, the Legislature had not forwarded the maps, which were approved on March 4, to the governor.

A new map needs to be in place by mid-June for congressional candidate qualifying.

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida

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