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State Appeals Injunction That Found Governor's Re-Districting Map Unconstitutional

Redistrict Injunction.jpg
Picture courtesy The Florida Channel via Zoom
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The temporary injunction would freeze implementation of the new congressional district boundaries. However the appeal, filed with the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, automatically puts a stay on the injunction preventing it from taking effect.

Florida - Thursday May 12, 2022: Florida’s Secretary of State has filed an appeal to the temporary injunction issued Thursday by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith who declared that the congressional re-districting map signed into law by Governor DeSantis violates Florida’s State Constitution.

The temporary injunction would freeze implementation of the new congressional district boundaries. However the appeal, filed the same day with the 1st District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, automatically puts a stay on the injunction preventing it from taking effect.

The case pits Florida law against Federal law.

Arguments were made during an online hearing Wednesday before Judge Smith, who was appointed by Governor DeSantis. He decided that in this case, Florida’s Constitution should prevail. “I think that the Florida Constitution (is) independent of the Voting Rights Act," said the Judge.

The arguments revolved around Congressional District 5 held by Florida Congressman Al Lawson, a black democrat, elected by voters in a District that previously stretched from Jacksonville to Tallahassee along the Georgia border. When Florida lawmakers set the boundaries for District 5 they were guided by the state constitution’s requirement that when district lines are drawn the right of minority voters to elect the candidate of their choice should not be diminished.

But Mohammad Jazil, the attorney representing the state, argued that the very act of deciding district lines on the basis of race is a violation of federal law.

“They (Florida state lawmakers) may have been doing it (drawing district lines) to comply with the state constitution, but they said that they’re drawing it for racial reasons They’re connecting black populations," said Jazil. "You have to make sure that things comply with the federal constitution and then you have to make sure they comply with Florida’s, specifically the non-diminishment provision. Where the two conflict the equal protection clause must prevail.”

When Florida Lawmakers set the boundaries for District 5, Jazil argues, they violated the 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution and the 1965 Federal Voting Rights Act because they based they based their boundary decision on race. Jazil maintains that the map endorsed by Governor DeSantis is not based on the race of the voters within the district, it is race neutral.

However attorney John Devaney, who represents the Florida League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs, pointed out that the DeSantis map scatters the 370,000 black voters in the old District 5 into four different majority white districts, where they have no chance of electing a candidate of their choice. “It’s classic cracking your honor," said Devaney. "Let’s take that black population. Let’s splinter it up into 4 districts where they don’t have any voting power. And that’s what we’ve got.”

Judge Smith agreed saying "I do find persuasive the arguments that were made about the diminishment of African American votes. The enacted map is unconstitutional.”

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Images courtesy Florida Legislature
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The previous Florida Congressional District map is seen on the left. The disputed District 5 is at the top along the Georgia border. The map signed into law by the Governor, which Judge Smith found to be "unconstitutional", is on the right.