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Florida Judge Tosses New GOP-Friendly Redistricting Map

Florida Judge Tosses New GOP-Friendly Redistricting Map

A Florida state judge has thrown out the congressional map passed by the Republican legislature and pushed by Governor Ron DeSantis, ruling that it violated state law by drawing Black voters out of a north Florida district.

DeSantis had called for the state to adopt a map that restores the district’s previous shape, which would stretch from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and have a near majority-Black voting age population. The originally adopted version of the map reduces Florida’s 5th District to nearly a third of its original size, while dispersing about 370,000 Black voters among four other districts, according to evidence brought to the court by the map’s challengers and voting rights groups. But Circuit Judge Layne Smith ruled Wednesday that the DeSantis version of the map violates the state’s constitutional amendments on redistricting because “it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice” in Florida’s 5th District.

As the original map was moving through the legislature, DeSantis and his allies cited issues with compactness while pushing for a drastic change to Florida’s 5th District. They had also claimed the district violates the U.S. Constitution because it assigns voters “primarily based on race.” DeSantis’ map also favored his party and could have given the party a net gain of four seats in Florida alone. “Race and political partisan data are in no way related at all to my drawing of any of the districts on the map,” said Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, during a presentation of their map to a Florida Senate committee in April. But all seven members of Florida’s Supreme Court were appointed by Republican governors. “The minority vote is lowered enough that you would expect it to be substantially harder for minorities to elect the candidate of their choice,” Judge Smith said.

Democratic Congressman Al Lawson, who represents Florida’s 5th District, said he was pleased by Smith’s decision and said, “it is critical to maintaining congressional district 5, so minority voters have a voice at the ballot box in November.”

Judge Smith added that there would be a written order signed by Friday so the state’s defendants may appeal. They will be able to appeal the decision to the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal, though Smith said that court could then send it up to the Florida Supreme Court. If the defendants file an appeal, a stay on Smith’s decision would automatically be triggered.

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