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Lawsuit against Florida’s congressional map advances to Federal Court


Federal courts allowed a case against Florida’s congressional map to move forward, but without Gov. Ron DeSantis as a defendant.

A three-judge panel ruled that plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of a map the Governor signed have standing to sue. Plaintiffs claim in their federal complaint the map, drafted by DeSantis’ staff after he vetoed one produced by the Legislature, significantly diminishes Black voting power in Florida.

Attorneys for the state called for judges to dismiss the case because civil rights groups lacked standing, but plaintiffs include individual voters who live in congressional districts now represented by Black members of Congress. The lawsuit claims the new map hurts the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.

Judges Adalberto Jordan, M. Casey Rodgers and Allen Winsor together denied a motion to dismiss the same day elections took place for the first time under the new congressional map.

“We need not address the standing of all of the plaintiffs because the parties agree (and we concur) that two of the individual plaintiffs, Brenda Holt and Leo Stoney, have standing under the district-specific injury analysis,” the decision reads.

Holt lives now in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, where she is represented by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. But under the new map, Holt — and Lawson — were drawn into Florida’s 2nd Congressional District, a majority White, Republican-leaning district. Lawson ran for election there against fellow incumbent U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn but lost to the Panama City Republican.

Stoney lives in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Val Demings, also a Black Democrat, serves. Demings ran this year for Senate and lost to Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. She will be succeeded in CD 10 by Rep.-elect Maxwell Alejandro Frost, an Afro-Cuban Democrat. The federal lawsuit argues that while the district was left a Democratic jurisdiction, Black voters no longer control the outcome of the race.

Attorneys for plaintiff groups cheered the decision to advance the case and allow for discovery.

“We are pleased to see this important case move forward so that Florida’s voters can have fair representation in Congress instead of the discriminatory set of voting maps that voters were forced to use in this week’s election,” said Kathay Feng, redistricting director for Common Cause, one of the plaintiff groups.

Advocates say the election in Florida, where Republicans picked up four seats under DeSantis’ map, shows the unfair motivations behind the cartography.

“Florida’s Latino, Black, and Asian American populations were disproportionately harmed this week when they had to vote under the discriminatory maps currently in place,” said Allison Riggs, co-executive director and chief counsel for voting rights at Southern Coalition for Social Justice, another plaintiff group.

“The courts moving this case forward will help us ensure a future where those voters can more easily elect candidates of their choice. We will continue to fight for the rights of all Florida voters to be able to freely use their voice.”

But the judges’ decision wasn’t entirely siding with the plaintiffs. The court did rule DeSantis should not remain a defendant in the lawsuit. That’s because as Governor, he does not play a direct role in enforcing the map. Secretary of State Cord Byrd will remain as a defendant in the case.

“The three-judge panel may have let Governor DeSantis off the hook for procedural reasons,” said Ellen Freidin of Fair Districts Now, another plaintiff, “but we know he was the main architect in the creation of this unfair and illegal Congressional map that drastically reduced the ability of Black Floridians to elect candidates of their choice.”

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.