Voting rights groups seek injunction against Florida congressional redistricting plan

The map was proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved by state lawmakers.
Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, Rep. Tray McCurdy, D-Orlando, and Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, yell as they protest on the Florida Seal at the Capitol in Tallahassee during debate April 21 on Senate Bill 2-C: Establishing the Congressional Districts of the State.
Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson, D-Gainesville, Rep. Tray McCurdy, D-Orlando, and Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, yell as they protest on the Florida Seal at the Capitol in Tallahassee during debate April 21 on Senate Bill 2-C: Establishing the Congressional Districts of the State. [ PHIL SEARS | AP ]
Published April 27, 2022|Updated April 27, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Focusing on a North Florida district that has become a legal and political battleground, voting rights groups and other plaintiffs are seeking a temporary injunction to block a congressional redistricting plan pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs filed a motion late Tuesday requesting a temporary injunction, after filing a lawsuit Friday to challenge the plan. Republican lawmakers passed the plan during a special legislative session last week.

Related: Voting groups sue Florida over DeSantis congressional map

The motion, filed in Leon County circuit court, contends that an overhaul of North Florida’s Congressional District 5 violates a 2010 constitutional amendment — known as the Fair Districts amendment — that sets standards for redistricting in the state.

District 5 in recent years has stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee and has tied together Black communities to help elect a Black candidate. The district is held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

But DeSantis has contended that the sprawling district was unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and the plan passed last week would condense it in the Jacksonville area. The motion for a temporary injunction argues that the new map violates part of the 2010 constitutional amendment that bars diminishing the ability of minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.”

“A temporary injunction is warranted here because plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the DeSantis plan violates the non-diminishment provision of … the Florida Constitution by dismantling the former Congressional District 5, a North Florida district in which Black voters were previously able to elect their candidates of choice,” the motion said. “Rather than preserve a North Florida district where Black voters would retain their ability to elect their candidates of choice to Congress, the DeSantis plan cracks Black voters among four majority-white districts, thus diminishing their voting strength in violation of the Fair Districts amendment.”

While primary elections are scheduled for Aug. 23, the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that enough time remains to revamp the redistricting plan.

Related: DeSantis congressional map splits St. Petersburg, reduces Tampa Bay competition

“While plaintiffs have challenged the DeSantis plan in its entirety, this motion seeks temporary relief solely on the ground that the elimination of CD-5 violates the Florida Constitution’s non-diminishment standard,” a memorandum filed with the motion said. “Any injunction would therefore be limited to a handful of districts in North Florida and thus would not impact election preparations throughout most of the state.”

DeSantis called last week’s special session after vetoing a congressional redistricting plan passed in March by the Legislature. A map proposed by DeSantis’ office passed during the special session, despite fierce opposition that included Democratic lawmakers holding a rare protest that temporarily shut down House floor proceedings Thursday.

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The map is expected to increase from 16 to 20 the number of congressional seats held by Republicans, based on 2020 election results. Also, it is expected to reduce the number of Black Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation by changing District 5 and a district in the Orlando area.

Lawmakers initially supported keeping a sprawling configuration of District 5 as they carried out the once-a-decade reapportionment process. But DeSantis’ general counsel argued that approach would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it “assigns voters primarily on the basis of race but is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”

A key part of the legal fight could involve questions about the Equal Protection Clause and the Fair District amendment in the Florida Constitution.

“We’ve passed maps that are constitutional,” Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, said during last week’s special session. “They will be litigated, and we will learn whether the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reigns supreme over the Florida state Constitution. That is the discussion at hand.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida, the Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the Equal Ground Education Fund, the League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund, Florida Rising Together and 12 registered Democrats from Duval, Leon, Seminole, Orange, Pinellas, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties filed the lawsuit Friday in Leon County circuit court.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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