A Florida state appeals court on Friday upheld Governor Ron DeSantis’s (R) congressional maps, overturning a previous lower court ruling that had deemed them unconstitutional.
The appeals court asserted that the lower court had misapplied precedent and should have dismissed the lawsuit challenging the maps. The legal dispute revolves around the Fair Districts Amendments of the Florida Constitution, enacted in 2010 to curb partisan gerrymandering.
In 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that state Republicans violated these amendments in their 2010 congressional maps, specifically those surrounding Jacksonville. This led to the imposition of new district boundaries.
Governor DeSantis proposed a fresh set of maps in January 2022, facing legal challenges based on the Fair Districts Amendments. Plaintiffs argued that the governor and Florida Republicans drew the lines to diminish the voting power of Black voters in Jacksonville by dividing the city among multiple districts.
The lower court rejected these maps in September, citing the 2015 Florida Supreme Court case. However, the appeals court decided on Friday that the case was not binding precedent and should not have been relied upon, citing other factors.
The focal point of the case is the state’s 5th District. The original pre-2020 census district spanned from parts of Tallahassee to Jacksonville, while the DeSantis version would include a densely populated section of Jacksonville and its southeastern suburbs, moving down the coast to St. Augustine.
The old 5th District had a Black population of around 46 percent, whereas the new district is only 12.8 percent Black, with the remaining Black population distributed across other districts with significantly fewer Black voters.
In September, the lower court ruled that the new maps diminished the ability of a racial minority to elect representatives of their choice. However, the appeals court on Friday disagreed, stating that the lower court had relied on the former 5th District as a benchmark without considering the Black communities of Tallahassee and Jacksonville separately for redistricting purposes.
The ruling implies that all of North Florida’s congressional districts, currently held by Republicans, will remain in effect for the 2024 elections unless overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.
Genesis Robinson, political director for activist group Equal Ground and a plaintiff in the case, criticized the decision, calling it a dangerous precedent for the erosion of voting rights in Florida. He stated that the plaintiffs plan to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court.