Florida Supreme Court Lets DeSantis’ Gerrymandered Congressional Districts Stand For Now

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 17: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during speaks during a press conference at the University of Miami Health System Don Soffer Clinical Research Center on May 17, 2022 in Miami, Florida. His ... MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 17: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during speaks during a press conference at the University of Miami Health System Don Soffer Clinical Research Center on May 17, 2022 in Miami, Florida. His wife first lady Casey DeSantis, who recently survived breast cancer, stands next to him. The governor held the press conference to announce that the state of Florida would be supplying $100 million for Florida's cancer research centers, after he signs the state budget into law. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) MORE LESS

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear a challenge to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) gerrymandered congressional maps for now, meaning that the maps will likely be in place for this year’s congressional elections. 

The fight over the maps is currently before an appeals court in the state, and a 4-1 majority of the Florida Supreme Court said for that reason it would be premature for them to step in. 

“At this time, this Court does not have jurisdiction over that matter,” the court’s majority wrote in a brief opinion.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature initially passed maps that, though slanted in their own party’s favor, were relatively fair to Democrats. But DeSantis vetoed those districts and insisted that a plurality-Black district in the state’s north be eliminated, referring to it as a “racial gerrymander.” That district, represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D), was itself approved by the Florida Supreme Court at the end of a years-long redistricting fight in 2015.

The legislature rolled over and passed DeSantis’ preferred map. A trial court judge found that the map violated the state’s constitution, which mandates that the political power of minority voters not be diminished, but the appeals court paused the trial judge’s order to use a different map. 

Roughly 70% of the congressional districts will likely end up represented by Republican members of Congress — even though Donald Trump won Florida with just 51% of the popular vote.

The DeSantis map, combined with a redistricting loss in court for Democrats in New York and other Republican gains in Ohio and elsewhere, have contributed to Democrats’ fears that control of the U.S. House of Representatives will flip to Republicans after the November midterm elections. 

In a dissent, Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga cited the popularity of Florida’s anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments, and wrote that since the appeals court’s decision would likely be appealed to the state’s Supreme Court, the body should just take up the question now. 

“Given this Court’s history of considering congressional redistricting cases, I cannot forecast that we will lack jurisdiction to review the district court’s merits decision,” Labarga wrote. “At stake here is the mandate of 62.9% of Florida voters who voted in 2010 for one of what are commonly known as the Fair Districts Amendments to the Florida Constitution — by any measure of comparison, 62.9% of the vote is an overwhelming margin.” 

The case was brought to the Florida Supreme Court by Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and several other parties. Another plaintiff, Equal Ground, said in a statement that the court had “shown complete disregard for the Florida Constitution and the solemn oath they swore.” 

“Governor DeSantis’ proposed map is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on Black representation in Florida and a violation of the Fair Districts Amendment,” said the group’s founder and consulting director  Jasmine Burney-Clark.

“We, the people of Florida, are not going anywhere, and the fight is not over.” 

In a joint statement, the organizational plaintiffs involved in the suit said, “The Governor’s attempt to delay these proceedings past the point that local Supervisors of Elections can successfully implement a constitutional map is a direct attack on the rights of all Floridians of all races who voted for Fair Districts.”

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