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Civil rights groups, voters challenge Gov. DeSantis' map

Desantis with his hand out
Marta Lavandier
AP Photo
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference, Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, in Miami.

Opponents to Gov. Ron DeSantis congressional map are counting on it getting overturned in court.

On Friday, civil rights and voting rights groups filed a lawsuit in the state circuit court in Leon County. They argue that the map violates the state constitution’s Fair Districts Amendment, which bans intentional partisan gerrymandering and the diminishment of minority voters’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

Civil and voting rights groups are asking a state court to throw out Governor Ron DeSantis’ congressional map. The plaintiffs argue the map violates the state constitution’s Fair Districts Amendment, which bans intentional partisan gerrymandering and the diminishment of minority voting power.

“In Florida, you have these explicit provisions,” said Marina Jenkins, director of policy and litigation at the National Redistricting Foundation. “I think the Republicans in Florida are counting on the courts not enforcing that and not holding them accountable.”

The map would give Republicans a 20-8 advantage in Congress. It would also eliminate two districts represented by African American Democrats, including Congressman Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

“It’s frustrating, I think, to see a state like Florida that had been at the forefront of trying to move toward fair maps and fair districts and then to get a map that truly is a worst-case scenario, ignores all these reforms,” Jenkins said.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Equal Ground Action Fund, Black Voters Matter and Florida Rising, along with several voters, are among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs.

"Under unthinkable pressure from the governor, the legislature has passed what is probably the most intentionally partisan and racist congressional map in the history of Florida,” wrote Ellen Frieden, founder of Fair Districts Now, in a statement issued after the bill’s passage. Frieden was involved in getting the Fair Districts Amendments on the ballot.

DeSantis, who signed the map into law on Friday, has argued that the Fair Districts Amendment conflicts with recent federal court rulings.

Florida voters approved the Fair Districts Amendments in 2010 through a statewide referendum. About 63% voted in favor of them. Their goal is to ensure that the state’s legislative and congressional maps are drawn fairly, not in a way that benefits or disfavors a particular party or incumbent, and to guarantee equal representation for minority voters.

The map is expected to determine where the state’s congressional candidates run in the November elections, unless plaintiffs suing to have the map thrown out prevail ahead of the candidate filing deadline.

“This fight will continue in court,” said Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Orlando. “We will keep speaking about it. We will not let him get away with it.”

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.