Opponents launch legal fight against redistricting plan | Local News

TALLAHASSEE — After Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law new congressional district lines on Friday that he pushed lawmakers to pass, the controversial plan immediately sparked a legal challenge.

Voting rights groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida and 12 individual plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court, claiming the Congressional map (SB 2-C) does not comply state redistricting laws and is “a naked attempt” by DeSantis to “rig” congressional elections for Republicans.

During a special legislative session this week, Republican lawmakers passed the plan, which was crafted by DeSantis’ office. The bill has drawn fierce opposition, at least in part because it will likely reduce the number of black Democrats elected to Congress.

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“The League (of women voters) and the other plaintiffs have chosen not to sit idly by while a rogue governor and a conniving state legislature flout the Florida Constitution and attempt to silence votes and protests. voices of hundreds of thousands of black voters,” Florida League of Women Voters President Cecile Scoon said in a prepared statement.

At an event at Hialeah Gardens, DeSantis announced he had signed the redistricting plan but did not discuss it further.

The Black Votes Matters Capacity Building Institute, Equal Ground Education Fund, League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund, Florida Rising Together and 12 registered Democrats from Duval, Leon, Seminole, Orange joined the League of Women Voters in the lawsuit. , Pinellas, Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody, House Speaker Chris Sprows, R-Palm Harbor, House Redistricting Chairman Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, the Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby and the Senate. Chairman of Redistribution Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero.

House and Senate officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Legal battles over the redistricting plan are widely expected and could last beyond the 2022 election. Candidates will qualify for the June elections.






Fine


In discussing potential litigation Thursday, R-Brevard County Rep. Randy Fine defended the new lines. He also alluded to a key issue regarding the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and what are known as the Fair Districts Amendments in the Florida Constitution.

“We passed maps that are constitutional,” Fine said. “They will be sued and we will learn if the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution reigns supreme over the Florida State Constitution. This is the ongoing discussion.

The 38-page lawsuit argues that the map violates state law by gerrymandering districts to favor the GOP. He also argues that by reducing the number of districts eligible to elect black Democrats from four to two, the plan violates the 2010 voter-approved Fair District Amendments, which prohibit watering down the ability to elect Black Democrats. racial and linguistic minorities in Congress.

Democratic suffrage attorney Marc Elias, whose law firm is among those representing the plaintiffs, called the DeSantis plan a “thumb in the nose” of voters who supported the 2010 amendments.

In an online chat on Friday, Elias added that DeSantis vetoed an early congressional redistricting plan passed by the Legislature because he “didn’t want a map that complied with the Fair District amendments. “.

“And those lawmakers who walked with him yesterday, they knew that too,” Elias said. “And they abdicated their responsibility under the Florida Constitution and their duty as lawmakers to simply approve a map sent to them by the governor.”

The map, which passed the Senate on Wednesday and the House on Thursday, is expected to increase the number of Republican congressional seats in Florida from 16 to 20, based on the results of the 2020 election.

Underscoring the courts’ duty to uphold the state’s Constitution, the lawsuit said: “Governor DeSantis believes that the Florida judiciary, like the legislature, will stand aside as he treads on feet the Florida Constitution and the will of Florida voters.”

The map was approved by 24 to 15 votes in the Senate and 68 to 38 in the House. The House vote came after a rare outcry from black lawmakers who halted House business for about an hour.

DeSantis called the special session after vetoing the congressional redistricting plan passed by the Legislative Assembly last month. He argued the legislature’s plan violated the Equal Protection Clause, in part because of a sprawling North Florida district. He said his proposal would be written in a “race-neutral way”.

The DeSantis plan redesigns Congressional District 5, which now stretches from Jacksonville west of Tallahassee, to become a more compact district in the Jacksonville area. The seat is currently held by U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a black Democrat.

The current layout of District 5 – renumbered District 4 on the new map – emerged after a court battle over the lines drawn in 2012.

DeSantis’ plan makes significant changes to Central Florida’s District 10, which has been held by U.S. Representative Val Demings, a black Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, and would shrink Democratic strongholds in the Tampa Bay area .

Democratic lawmakers have accused fellow Republicans of being “bullied” by DeSantis into endorsing the governor’s map, with threats to veto local projects and endorsements from key challengers.

In a conference call with other South Florida Democrats on Friday, Rep. Dotie Joseph, D-North Miami, said the DeSantis map “sacrifices black representation on the altar of the governor’s political ambition. , which is bad for our democracy”.

News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.


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