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Florida Congressional Map Need Not Be Redrawn, Says Court in Reversal

A Florida appellate court ruled on Friday that lawmakers do not have to redraw the state’s congressional map, reversing a September decision that found Republicans discriminated against Black voters when it reconfigured districts in the northern part of the state.

The ruling from the first district court of appeal is the latest development in a long-running legal battle over Black representation in the state. In 2015, the state supreme court imposed a district that stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee in order to give Black voters there a chance to elect the candidate of their choosing. From 2015 until 2022, voters in the fifth congressional district elected Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, to represent them. But in 2022, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, went out of his way to dismantle it, chopping it up into four majority-white districts that all elected Republican candidates.

A circuit court judge struck down the district in September, citing a provision of the state constitution that makes it illegal get rid of a district in which minority voters have a chance to elect the candidate of their choosing. The first district reversed that ruling on Friday, saying the challengers had failed to prove that Black voters in the expansive district were cohesive and electing the candidate of their choosing.

“There was no evidentiary basis for the conclusion that CD-5 afforded a legally cognizable Black community (as the parameters for such have been set out here) voting power that it did not otherwise have,” the 8-2 majority wrote in their opinion. “The plaintiffs then failed to prove a proper benchmark or baseline from which to assess an alleged diminishment in voting power.”

The parties in the case had hoped to fast-track their case to the Florida supreme court in order to get it resolved ahead of the 2024 election. The entire first district, however, decided to intervene and hear the case, slowing the process down.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Ross Bilbrey said the districts clear violated the non-diminishment standard in Florida’s constitution and that the judges should have allowed the state supreme court to quickly step in. Florida’s congressional map is also being challenged in a separate federal lawsuit.

Source: The Guardian