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Plaintiffs call for Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on fairness of state’s congressional districts

'From the very beginning, this has been about voting rights and protecting voting rights for Floridians,” said Genesis Robinson, Equal Ground’s political director
Posted at 5:58 PM, Dec 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-04 17:58:58-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It's not over yet. Plaintiffs in the state court battle over the fairness of Florida’s new congressional districts now asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in. That’s after the minority voting groups behind the legal effort were dealt a defeat last week.

Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground, and others filed their appeal on Sunday evening, hoping the high court's justices would take a look at their case.

"From the very beginning, this has been about voting rights and protecting voting rights for Floridians,” Genesis Robinson, Equal Ground’s poltical director, said. "This should be a very simple case. Obviously, it has not proved to be so up until this point, but we remain hopeful that the Supreme Court will intervene and do the right thing ahead of the 2024 election."

This latest legal filing comes after more than a year of hearings and decisions. The biggest to date, Friday, was when Florida’s First District Court of Appeal ruled 8-2 to uphold the map the state is already using— and reverse a lower court’s call for a redraw.

Proposed by the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis, the current map carved up Florida’s former fifth district in the north, turning what was a reliably Black-performing and Democrat area into four new zones. All elected white Republicans in 2022.

During a Halloween hearing at the First DCA, plaintiffs had argued the change violated Florida’s constitution, which protects against attempts to reduce minority voting power during the redistricting process. Attorneys for the state believed the change was fair and considered the old Congressional District Five a "racial gerrymander."

"The plaintiffs here seek to invalidate the state’s race-neutral map in North Florida and replace it with one that contains a district guaranteeing that Black preferred candidates always win,” Henry Whitaker, representing Secretary of State Cord Byrd during the Oct. 31 oral arguments, said.

The Florida Supreme Court will now decide whether to step in and offer its opinion. House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, was hopeful it would, given what she considered an overly broad decision by the First DCA.

"What the First District Court of Appeal has done in this opinion is so far off the field," Driskell said during a Monday press call. "It basically says courts no longer have to follow the precedent of Florida’s Supreme Court if they think it’s political."
 
Justices can choose to stay out of it, meaning Florida’s map might stay as is. That would, however, depend on what happens on the federal level. A similar case there is working its way through the courts and awaiting a ruling. That challenge is still awaiting a decision after a two-week trial in Tallahassee, which ended in early October.

Common Cause, the group behind the federal lawsuit, said in a recent statement the ruling by the First DCA of Florida "blatantly ignores the will of Florida voters" and that officials were hopeful their case would have a better result.

"We are deeply disappointed by today’s state court decision, and we want Florida voters to know there is still hope for a fair congressional map that protects the rights of Black voters," Amy Keith, Common Cause Florida executive director, said Friday. "Common Cause and our partners took the DeSantis administration to federal court to hold them accountable for intentionally drawing discriminatory maps in Common Cause Florida v. Byrd and we are still waiting for a decision."