In a recent ruling, the Florida Legislature has been deemed not to have violated the state constitution when it approved congressional maps advocated by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. This decision, made by the 1st District Court of Appeal, overturns a previous ruling by a lower court that deemed the redrawing of U.S. Representative Alan Lawson’s district as unconstitutional due to its negative impact on the ability of Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice.
Governor DeSantis had actively pushed for the dismantling of Lawson’s district, arguing that the federal Constitution prohibits the consideration of race when drawing congressional maps. Additionally, DeSantis contended that the district failed to meet the requirement of compactness. The district in question spanned approximately 200 miles, stretching from downtown Jacksonville to rural Gadsden County along the Georgia border.
Various voting rights groups had raised objections to the new map, claiming that it violated the constitution by fragmenting a district where nearly half of the registered voters were Black. However, the appeals court sided with Governor DeSantis, asserting that a district cannot be created to connect two Black communities without any other meaningful connection between them.
The court stated, “Without common interests and a shared history and socioeconomic experience, it is not a community that can give rise to a cognizable right protected by the state constitution. In other words, it is the community that must have the power, not a district manufactured for the sole purpose of creating voting power.”
While this ruling stands, there is a separate lawsuit challenging the congressional maps that is currently being heard in federal court. The outcome of this case will further shape the representation of Black voters in north Florida, where they are currently left with solely white representation in Washington, spanning a vast area of approximately 360 miles from the Alabama border to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Georgia border to Orlando in central Florida.
It is worth noting that the Florida redistricting case is just one of numerous cases across the nation challenging Republican-drawn maps, as the GOP aims to maintain their slim majority in the House of Representatives.
The decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal has significant implications for the future of congressional districts in Florida. It highlights the ongoing debate surrounding the consideration of race in redistricting efforts and the balance between adhering to constitutional requirements and ensuring fair representation for all citizens.