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Civil rights groups gear up for hearing on DeSantis map

Judge's gavel on table in office
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A Florida appeals court says remote legal hearings are constitutional.

Several civil rights groups and voters want a state court to replace Florida’s new congressional map with one that restores Black voting power in the northern part of the state.

“We’re not in a world where we’re trying to construct a map from scratch,” said Olivia Mendoza, an attorney who’s representing the plaintiffs. They’ve expressed support for a bipartisan Senate plan that would’ve kept Democratic African American Rep. Al Lawson’s district mostly intact.

Congressional District 5 was the region’s only U.S. House district where Black voters made up enough of the constituency to elect a candidate of their choice. The state’s new map carves it into four districts, “cracking” Black voters into separate districts with white majorities who don’t consistently elect the minority group’s preferred candidate, the plaintiffs argue.

They say this violates the state constitution’s Fair Districts Amendment, which prohibits the drawing of districts in a way that diminishes minority groups’ ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

If the judge grants their request for a preliminary injunction, then the court would need to adopt a replacement map in time for candidates to run in the November elections. It’s unclear when that deadline would take place.

Florida League of Women Voters, Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground Action Fund, Florida Rising and several voters who live in Congressional District 5 are seeking the injunction as part of a broader legal challenge to have the map struck down and permanently replaced.

The preliminary injunction hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. before a state circuit court judge in Leon County. Plaintiffs have asked for a quick decision, but a ruling could take one or two weeks.

This isn’t the first time the state’s congressional map has been challenged under the Fair Districts Amendment, which was approved by about 63% of voters in 2010. The League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs challenged the 2012 map and the Florida Supreme Court ultimately replaced it in time for the 2016 elections. “It just feels like groundhog day,” said Shawn Bartlet with the Florida League of Women Voters. “Here we are all over again.”

In 2015, the court approved Lawson’s district in an effort to comply with the Fair Districts Amendment’s “non-diminishment standard,” meaning the maps may not erase districts where the racial or language minority group has the ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

One of those remedies was the creation of Lawson’s district, which guaranteed the region’s African American voters would have the ability to elect a candidate of their choice.