Florida Legislature Rolls Over As DeSantis Pushes To Eliminate A Black Congressional District

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis (R) addresses attendees on day one of the 2022 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando. (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

For months, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pressured the state’s Republican-majority legislature to eliminate a plurality-Black congressional district in the state.

And on Monday, Republicans in the legislature rolled over for the governor, saying that they would do whatever he wished — even letting his office take the highly unusual step of drawing the map himself. 

No, really: The legislature, after having its first proposed congressional map vetoed by DeSantis, was set to begin a special session next week to take another stab at the congressional districts.

But then, Republican leaders announced they would just do whatever DeSantis wanted.

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“At this time, Legislative reapportionment staff is not drafting or producing a map for introduction during the Special Session,” the state Senate president and House speaker said in a memo

“We are awaiting a communication from the Governor’s Office with a map that he will support. Our intention is to provide the Governor’s Office opportunities to present that information before House and Senate redistricting committees.”

So what does the governor want? He’s said it himself: The elimination of a plurality-Black district in North Florida. 

First Map Wasn’t Partisan Enough For DeSantis

The legislature already drew congressional maps — there were two, a “Plan A,” and a back-up in case the first was struck down in court. And they were both vetoed by the governor.

Why? An attorney for the governor complained in a memo that Congressional District 5 — which runs along Florida’s northern border with Georgia and has been represented since 2017 by Rep. Al Lawson (D) — was gerrymandered in favor of Black voters. This, DeSantis’ General Counsel Ryan Newman asserted, was akin to segregated schools or public parks. 

The proposed district, Newman wrote, “violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it assigns voters primarily on the basis of race but is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.” 

“There is no good reason to believe that District 5 needed to be drawn as a minority-performing district to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because the relevant minority group is not sufficiently large to constitute a majority in a geographically compact area,” he added later in the memo, noting that in two versions of the district drawn by state legislators, the voting-age Black population made up 43.5% and 35.5% of the district, respectively. (The district was approved by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015.)

DeSantis’ own proposal, which he announced in January, would eliminate the 5th District as it’s currently constituted, leading to what some Republicans fear will be map vulnerable to a legal challenge under a Florida law mandating that minority communities have the chance to “elect representatives of their choice.” 

The governor’s deep involvement in the redistricting process was surprising in its own right. The legislature’s passing off its redistricting authority to DeSantis is another level entirely.

At first, when the legislature proposed its own maps rather than relying on the governor’s ideas, political observers praised the body for asserting some independence in a state where DeSantis looms large.

“For once, Republican lawmakers are standing up to Gov. Ron DeSantis, at least a little bit,” the Miami Herald Editorial Board wrote last month, arguing that in addition to congressional boundaries, legislative Republicans were “drawing a line between themselves and a powerful GOP governor.” 

It didn’t last long.

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