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Florida Supreme Court denies DeSantis' request for advisory opinion

Desantis speaking
Chris O'Meara
AP File Photo
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to supporters and members of the media after a bill signing on Nov. 18, 2021, in Brandon, Fla. DeSantis is taking the unusual step of asking his state's Supreme Court to advise whether Democratic Rep. Al Lawson's district can be broken up. For decades, Lawson's district has stretched like a rubber band from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, scooping up as many Black voters as possible to comply with requirements that minority communities get grouped together so they can select their own leaders and flex their power in Washington.

The Florida Supreme Court has denied Gov. Ron DeSantis' request for an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of maintaining north Florida's African American congressional district.

On Thursday, the court decided not to weigh in on whether Congressional District 5 — which stretches from Gadsden County to Jacksonville — must remain a minority access district. In its ruling, the court said DeSantis' request was too broad and would require a "fact-intensive analysis."

Last week, DeSantis explained in his request for an advisory opinion that he needed the court's guidance to help him exercise his veto power. The full legislature hasn't yet passed a final congressional map for the governor's approval, though the state Senate has passed a version that keeps Congressional District 5 largely intact.

The governor's request came after he submitted his own map for consideration. His proposal would carve up the north Florida district — which Democratic Rep. Al Lawson currently represents — into four compact districts. The current district lines divide Leon County and capture a portion of Duval County.

"History shows that the constitutionality of a final redistricting bill for all congressional districts will be subject to more judicial review through subsequent challenges in court," the court explained in its reasoning.

The governor's communications director Taryn Fenske responded via email with the following statement:

"While we were hopeful the Supreme Court would provide clarity to legal questions surrounding the maps that are under consideration, we agree with the Court’s opinion that there are important issues that must be addressed quickly," Fenske said. "We look forward to working with the Legislature to finalize a new congressional map for the 2022 election."

Justices Ricky Polston and Jorge Labarga, along with Justices Carlos G. Muñiz, John D. Couriel and Jamie Rutland Grosshans concurred on the ruling. The latter three are DeSantis appointees.

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Alan Lawson recused themselves.

Fair elections groups filed briefs this week urging the court to reject the governor's request for an answer on the 5th Congressional District.

The GOP-controlled legislature, state Attorney General Ashley Moody and Jacksonville's Republican Mayor Lenny Curry filed briefs in support of the governor's request.

Democrats were quick to respond to the Thursday's ruling. Rep. Kelly Skidmore, the party's ranking member on the House's Congressional Redistricting Committee, issued a statement describing the governor's request as "improper."

“It’s time to set aside this political distraction and get back to work," Skidmore said. "Floridians expect us to create fair maps that uphold the Florida and U.S. constitutions, and that’s exactly what we plan to do.”

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book also issued a statement commending the court for its "swift" ruling that respects the constitution's separation of powers.

"I look forward to seeing my colleagues in the Florida House of Representatives move through their process to finalize the congressional maps just as the Florida Senate has done so we can move swiftly to conclude the important redistricting work left to do."

The state House paused its progress on passing a congressional map after DeSantis requested an advisory opinion last week.

Valerie Crowder is a freelance journalist based in Tallahassee, Fl. She's the former ATC host/government reporter for WFSU News. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.