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Has Ron DeSantis Been Chatting With Clarence Thomas About Redistricting?

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April 14, 2022 2:47 p.m.

Wednesday’s news of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed congressional maps — which are heavily slanted in Republicans’ favor and likely to be approved by the GOP-controlled legislature — raised an interesting question. 

Have the governor and Justice Clarence Thomas been in touch? And if so, what about? 

After all, emails revealed in February — from Thomas’ wife Ginni Thomas to DeSantis’ scheduling office in June last year — seem to indicate as much. 

“[M]y husband has been in contact with him too on various things of late,” Ginni Thomas wrote then, requesting the governor’s presence at an event she was organizing. 

Then, last month, NBC News quoted an unnamed Republican source who added a data point: “The source said DeSantis is in regular email contact with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, a leading opponent of racial set-asides, which the conservative-leaning court has scaled back in recent years,” journalist Marc Caputo reported. 

DeSantis’ office hasn’t replied to TPM’s request for comment, but the governor seems eager for a legal fight over his districts.

“You look at what’s happened in the U.S. Supreme Court over the last four or five years,” DeSantis said Tuesday, hinting at the court’s conservative turn with the addition of three Trump-appointed justices, and how it’s decided voting rights and gerrymandering cases in recent years. A series of recent Supreme Court rulings have taken aim at the Voting Rights Act and scaled back the tools advocates for voting rights have at their disposal when challenging gerrymanders and restrictive voting laws.

It all raises the question: Are Justice Thomas and DeSantis actually in touch, as Ginni Thomas claimed? And if so, did they discuss Florida’s impending gerrymandering fight? 

At the time Ginni Thomas mentioned DeSantis and Justice Thomas’ contact about “various things of late,” on June 10, 2021, the impending redistricting fight was certainly in the air: In April of that year, U.S. Census figures showed that Florida’s population had grown enough to earn a 28th congressional district.

The following month, on May 6, DeSantis signed a now-infamous voter suppression package, SB 90, during a Fox News appearance. (A federal judge recently struck down parts of that law in a lengthy ruling that focused on Florida’s history of racist voter suppression. The state has said it will appeal to the ruling.) 

Also in May, articles in Politico and Axios flagged the arrival of a new Florida-focused, conservative redistricting group, “Democracy Now,” led by the former Trump administration official (and, before that, Florida legislator) Carlos Trujillo. 

Noting that the Florida Supreme Court had “turned over” in the previous decade — DeSantis has appointed three judges — Trujillo told Axios, “our hope is the maps that are presented — as long as they’re in compliance with the state constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act — should be ratified by a nonactivist Florida Supreme Court.”

DeSantis Clearly Wants A Legal Fight

Obviously, none of this confirms what Thomas and DeSantis discussed, if, in fact, they’ve spoken at all. Still, Florida’s governor has been eager for a legal fight over his proposed congressional maps, which would likely give Florida Republicans 20 congressional districts to Democrats’ eight, a dramatic shift from the 16-11 status quo. 

“I think our dispute very well may lead to saying that Florida’s redistricting amendments are not consistent with the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause,” DeSantis said in March. (The redistricting amendments in question, approved overwhelmingly by Florida voters in 2010, were intended to prohibit overly partisan gerrymandering.) 

“It is designed to potentially lead to a legal challenge of Florida’s redistricting amendments,” DeSantis said of his then-proposed map, Florida Politics reported. (Their coverage has been great in general.) 

He added: “I think if you look at how those amendments are crafted, some of the case law that came in the middle of the last decade — which is what … the Legislature followed and I understand why they did that — it’s our view that if you honestly take that text history and stricture seriously, that that’s much broader than what would be countenanced under the 14th Amendment.”

Later, while vetoing a map from the legislature, DeSantis flagged his desire for the fight to go to the federal courts: “[In] their I-guess-understandable zeal to try and comply with what they believe the Florida Constitution requires, they forgot to make sure what they were doing complied with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” he said. 

Amid the scuffle between legislature Republicans and the governor, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls referred to DeSantis’ idea as a “novel legal theory.” Now, the legislature is apparently being led by DeSantis into a court battle that will test that theory.

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