By BRENDAN FARRINGTON
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A new congressional map drawn by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff that could diminish the state’s Black representation in Washington was reinstated by an appeals court Friday, a week after a lower court judge said the map was unconstitutional.
The 1st District Court of appeals ruled Judge Layne Smith erred when he ordered a replacement map be used for the 2022 election. The latest order means the governor’s map is reinstated pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the map.
While the appeals court didn’t address the constitutionality of the map, it did cite “the need for certainty and continuity as election season approaches.” The ruling comes as the state gets closer to the June 13 to 17 qualifying period for federal office.
The DeSantis map would likely boost the number of Florida seats held by Republicans, while also making it difficult for Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson to maintain his seat in a north Florida district where nearly half the voters are Black. Another district that currently favors Black candidates is also redrawn in a way that would make it more difficult for them to win.
The groups suing over the maps issued a joint statement. They include Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Equal Ground Education Fund, and Florida Rising Together.
“Today’s ruling does nothing to change the fact that the Governor’s proposed map is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on Black representation in Florida,” the statement said. “On Emancipation Day in Florida, we are once again reminded that the fight for equal rights for all continues and we look forward to prevailing on behalf of the people of our state.”
The order is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
“While I’m disappointed in today’s decision by the appellate court to reinstate DeSantis’ unconstitutional map, I am confident that the Florida Supreme Court will soon take over this issue and protect the rights of Black voters in North Florida,” Lawson said in a statement emailed to media outlets.
Lawson may be overly optimistic. Six of the seven justices are conservative, including three appointed by DeSantis.
The lawsuit challenging the map was brought by several voting rights groups.
In an unprecedented move, DeSantis, who is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, interjected himself into the process by submitting his own map just before the Senate was set to approve its map.
During the 60-day legislative session that ended in March, the Senate did not take the governor’s map into consideration, and the House approved two maps, a primary map to try to appease DeSantis and a second in case the first map was found to be unconstitutional.
While the House was debating its proposal, DeSantis used Twitter to say it would be dead on arrival. The Senate later approved the House maps and DeSantis kept his promise and vetoed the bill.
DeSantis has said Lawson’s district is gerrymandered based on race and claimed that violates the U.S. Constitution. He has said his map is neutral on race. Lawson’s district extends 200 miles (320 kilometers) from Jacksonville to Gadsden in an effort to link Black communities.
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