florida supreme court

Florida Supreme Court Keeps DeSantis-Approved Congressional Maps, Pitting Incumbents Against Each Other

The Florida Supreme Court refused to interfere with a controversial redistricting fight in early June, leaving a Gov. Ron DeSantis-approved congressional map in place for the 2022 midterm elections. 

The one-paragraph ruling was decided on a 4-1 vote with Justice Jorge Labarga dissenting. Two justices were missing from the ruling: Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Alan Lawson. The pair recused themselves from issuing their opinion on the redistricting matter; however, it is unknown as to why they did so. 

“Here Petitioners ask this Court to intervene in the First District Court of Appeal’s ongoing consideration of an appeal of an order imposing a temporary injunction. At this time, this Court does not have jurisdiction over that matter,” wrote Justices Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans in the opinion. 

The dispute revolves around the 5th Congressional District, which is currently represented by Rep. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. The current map shows District 5 running across the top of Florida, which includes all of Baker, Gadsden, Hamilton and Madison counties, as well as parts of Columbia, Duval, Jefferson and Leon counties.

The district has largely been a Democratic stronghold in recent years, and its main constituency is Black Americans. The shape of the district was approved by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 for adhering to the state constitution’s Fair Districts Amendments which prohibit the drawing of congressional districts in a way that diminishes the voting rights of racial- and language-minority voters. 

“At stake here is the mandate of 62.9% of Florida voters who voted in 2010 for one of what is commonly known as the Fair Districts Amendments to the Florida Constitution,” Justice Labarga wrote in his dissent. “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.” 

In April’s special legislative session, DeSantis proposed a new redistricting map after vetoing the Legislature’s previous versions. Based on past voting patterns, the map is predicted to increase the number of Republican-leaning districts in the state’s congressional delegation from 16 to 20. 

“We are not going to have a 200-mile gerrymander that divides up people based on the color of their skin,” remarked DeSantis at a news conference in Miami. 

The redistricting move from DeSantis is largely unprecedented, as governors do not typically put out their own congressional maps for approval. 

A lawsuit was filed against DeSantis’ new map by voting rights activists who argued that the newly created North Florida districts violate the Fair Districts Amendments. A ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith sided with the plaintiffs and issued a temporary injunction to block DeSantis’s plan and instead use a different map. 

However, the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a stay on the injunction, arguing that Smith exceeded his authority. The case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. 

“Sadly, the Florida Supreme Court has abrogated its responsibility to ensure that Florida doesn’t slip back to its old ways of creating districts with the intent of disenfranchising minority voters,” state Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, told the Florida Political Review. “Now the matter heads to the federal courts where we should hope justice will prevail.” 

The Florida Supreme Court’s decision to stay out of the dispute comes on the heels of an intense 2022 midterm election cycle. Current projections show the Republicans taking back the U.S. House of Representatives amidst President Joe Biden’s recent low approval ratings.

Despite the changes to his district, Rep. Al Lawson is running for reelection in District 2. He will be facing another incumbent, Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, in what will likely be a competitive race.

Check out other recent articles from the Florida Political Review here.

Featured Image: The front exterior of the Florida Supreme Court Building in Tallahassee, Florida, in 2011. Unmodified photo by Bruin79 used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3igKkad)

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