What is redistricting?
Redistricting affects political power. It determines which party controls Congress and state and local governments across the country. Elected representatives make essential decisions to our lives, from ensuring schools are safe to healthcare policies and much more.
The map that is drawn during the redistricting process ultimately has a long-term effect on community representation. Because redistricting has been used to exclude communities of color from political power, this year, Equal Ground is encouraging our community and our allies to participate and monitor the upcoming redistricting process.
We want to ensure that Florida’s underrepresented communities of color will have a fair opportunity to elect candidates that voice their needs and interests.
Fair District Amendments
In 2010, the residents of Florida voted overwhelmingly to enact the Fair Districts Amendments to the state’s constitution. These safeguards were intended to prevent partisan and racial gerrymandering and protect the right of Floridians to elect candidates of their choice. Over the next decade, other states have followed Florida’s lead by adopting similar laws prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to cite Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments as an example for other states to follow.
And as other states sought to follow Florida voter's lead and adopt guidelines for their redistricting process, Florida’s government was working to undermine the will of voters. In fact, just 4 years after Florida adopted the new laws, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the Legislature’s 2012 congressional redistricting plan finding that it violated the Fair District Amendments.
2022 Congressional Redistricting
At the beginning of the 2022 redistricting cycle, despite a lack of opportunities for public comment and engagement, the Legislature appeared to make some real attempts to follow some aspects of the Fair Districts Amendments. Legislators and their staff considered redistricting plans that seemed to avoid prohibited diminishment of benchmark congressional districts. However, they failed to do any new functional analysis to determine if more than the established benchmark minority districts were required by the Fair Districts Amendments.
However, despite case law to the contrary, Gov. DeSantis unilaterally declared the Fair Districts Amendments unconstitutional. He vetoed the Legislature’s congressional plan and convened a special legislative session, pressuring the Legislature to pass his own redistricting plan, SB 2-C (the “DeSantis Plan”). The Legislature initially stood its ground but in the end, before the redistricting special session started, legislative leadership announced they would abdicate their constitutional duty and allow the Governor to draw a map that he preferred- a complete violation of the separation of powers mandated by our Florida Constitution.
The DeSantis plan does not comply with the Florida Constitution. It does not even purport to. The DeSantis Plan, for example, obliterates Congressional District 05—an existing district that allowed North Florida’s Black voters to elect their candidates of choice, and that the Legislature originally sought to protect during this redistricting cycle—plainly resulting in unlawful diminishment. When asked on the House floor whether Governor DeSantis’s new CD-4 or CD-5 would perform for Black candidates of choice, Redistricting Committee Chair Leek responded simply, and honestly, “No.” In addition to North Florida, there was also a diminishment in CD 10 in Central Florida & CD 13 & 14 in Pinellas County and Hillsborough County.
On April 22, 2022, a lawsuit was filed in state court challenging the newly enacted Congressional Map passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.
The organizational plaintiffs in the case were Equal Ground Education Fund, Black Voters Matter Capacity Institute, League of Women Voters of Florida, and Florida Rising Together. The case also had 12 individual plaintiffs who reside in many of the directly impacted congressional districts.
The key complaints and requested remedy listed in the lawsuit by plaintiffs include:
Count 1 - Violation of Article III, Section 20 of the Florida Constitution Diminishment of Minority Ability to Elect (Tier I Violation) Count 2 - Violation of Article III, Section 20 of the Florida Constitution Intent to Abridge and Diminish Minority Voting Strength (Tier I Violation)
Count 3 - Violation of Article III, Section 20 of the Florida Constitution Intent to Favor or Disfavor a Political Party (Tier I Violation)
Count 4 - Violation of Article III, Section 20 of the Florida Constitution Political and Geographic Boundary Splits (Tier II Violation)
Motion filed for an expedited preliminary injunction against enforcing the governor’s map for Congressional District 5 (Congressman Lawson’s present district)
On April 22nd, a State Judge held a hearing to issue a temporary injunction. During the hearing, the judge blocked the map after finding that it likely violates the Fair Districts Amendment “because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice” in northern Florida. The Florida secretary of state immediately appealed this decision, which automatically stayed (meaning paused) the trial court’s order blocking the map. The trial court judge then vacated the stay during the appeal, meaning that DeSantis’ map was re-blocked. Then, the appellate court reinstated the automatic stay of the trial court’s order, thereby putting DeSantis’ map back in place while the appeal was being litigated.
The plaintiffs petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to intervene and requested they prevent the maps from being used in the 2022 General Election. The Supreme Court denied the request and vowed to take up the matter after the election. The court scheduled the trial to start in August 2023. While preparing for trial and negotiating with the state, the state of Florida expressed interest in potentially settling a portion of the case through a process known as stipulation. As part of the agreement, Florida’s Secretary of State, the Florida House of Representatives, and the Florida Senate have admitted that the state’s congressional map diminishes the voting power of Black Floridians and prevents them from electing a candidate of their choice in Florida’s Fifth Congressional District. Additionally, the agreement states that if the plaintiffs prevail, a new remedial plan will be in place in time for the 2024 primary elections and all other claims initially brought in the lawsuit would be dropped. On August 23rd, 2023, the Second Judicial Circuit Court heard oral arguments in the case, and we are awaiting the Judge’s ruling.