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Judge lifts stay from ruling on Florida’s congressional map

The state plans to ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to reimpose the stay.
State Sen. Kelli Stargel looks through redistricting maps during a Senate Committee on Reapportionment hearing on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee.
State Sen. Kelli Stargel looks through redistricting maps during a Senate Committee on Reapportionment hearing on Jan. 13, 2022, in Tallahassee. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published May 17

TALLAHASSEE — After issuing a temporary injunction last week against a congressional redistricting plan pushed through the Legislature by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Leon County circuit judge Monday ordered that the ruling remain in effect while the state pursues an appeal.

The state on Friday appealed Judge Layne Smith’s temporary injunction ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal. That triggered an automatic stay, which put the ruling on hold. But Smith held a hearing Monday and sided with voting rights groups that requested he lift the stay.

Related: Florida judge says DeSantis congressional map unconstitutional, says he'll block it

With elections supervisors preparing for the Aug. 23 primary elections, Smith pointed to the possibility that an appeal would not be resolved quickly. If the stay were not vacated, that could result in supervisors using the DeSantis-backed map that Smith said violated part of the state Constitution.

“It’s crunch time now, and this involves fundamental constitutional rights,” Smith said Monday.

The state plans to ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to reimpose the stay Tuesday, Mohammad Jazil, an attorney for the secretary of state, said.

Voting rights groups and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit April 22 after the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a redistricting plan that would boost the number of GOP representatives in Florida’s congressional delegation.

The plaintiffs also asked for a temporary injunction, focusing on an overhaul of North Florida’s Congressional District 5. That district in recent years has stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee and was designed to help elect a Black member of Congress. It is held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

The DeSantis-backed plan condensed the district in the Jacksonville area, reducing the chances of electing a Black representative.

Smith granted the temporary injunction Thursday and ordered the use of a map that would largely keep intact the sprawling east-west shape of the district. He agreed with the plaintiffs that the plan passed during the special session violated a 2010 state constitutional amendment — known as the Fair Districts amendment — that set standards for redistricting. Part of that amendment bars diminishing the ability of minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.”

Monday’s decision to lift the stay could lead to supervisors beginning to use the map that Smith ordered.

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

John Devaney, an attorney for the plaintiffs, pointed during Monday’s hearing to “compelling circumstances” to lift the stay.

“Irreparable harm will occur if the stay remains in place,” Devaney said.

DeSantis has contended that keeping the sprawling east-west shape of the district would involve racial gerrymandering and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

In a court document filed last week, the state’s attorneys wrote that the Equal Protection Clause bars “race-based sorting of voters” without a “compelling interest” and a “narrowly tailored” means to achieve that interest.

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It is unclear how long it will take for a decision in the state’s appeal of Smith’s temporary injunction ruling. Briefs had not been filed as of early Monday evening, according to a 1st District Court of Appeal docket.

Also, the plaintiffs filed a motion Friday requesting that the case be put on a fast track to the Florida Supreme Court. That would essentially lead to bypassing the Tallahassee-based appeals court, a move known as seeking “certification” to the Supreme Court.

The attorneys for voting rights groups and other plaintiffs wrote that time remains to move forward with a “remedial” redistricting plan before the 2022 elections, but “that window will likely close within a few weeks.” The candidate-qualifying period for this year’s elections will be held in mid-June.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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