WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A state judge in Leon County on Saturday struck down North Florida’s congressional districts, rejecting Gov. Ron DeSantis’ defiance of anti-gerrymandering protections.
The ruling by Judge J. Lee could restore a district similar to the one the Florida Supreme Court ordered last decade that stretched from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and Gadsden County in the panhandle. Until redistricting, Al Lawson held the seat from 2016 to 2022, when he lost his seat to a Republican.
Four Republican-leaning districts absorbed the district.
Of the 28 House districts in Florida, four are held by Black people, including three Democrats, for 14%. The Black population is 17%.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the people of North Florida, particularly those communities of color who have been historically disenfranchised," Ladson said in a statement.
"This decision is the right one for Florida and is firmly based on precedent from the United States and Florida Supreme Courts. This case will likely be appealed, but I am confident that our state Supreme Court Justices will follow the Constitution and affirm this decision."
As to his own future considerations, Lawson continued with the following statement:
“There is still more work to be done, so any decision about my future plans will come when this process is complete. My only goal right now is to ensure that fair representation is returned to the people of North Florida.”
The Legislature will get a first chance at drawing a new map. If the Legislature doesn’t draw a new map, both sides agreed to accept a district that spans from Duval to Gadsden, similar to the Legislature’s initial proposal.
The state must file a notice of appeal by Monday. Both parties intend to request that the Florida Supreme Court hear the case directly, skipping the usual step of going through a lower appellate court.
Secretary of State Cord Byrd said the state appeal: “We disagree with the trial court’s decision. This is why the stipulation contemplates an appeal with pass through jurisdiction to the Florida Supreme Court which we will be pursuing.”
At a hearing last month, Marsh questioned why Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody wasn’t defending the state’s Constitution in the case.
"Plaintiffs have shown that the Enacted Plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” and that “all of the districts that replaced Benchmark CD-5 (Enacted CD-2, CD-3, CD-4, and CD-5) are majority white in voter registration, that white voters cast the majority of votes in both primary and general elections," the judge ruled.
The judge also rejects the idea that a Black-performing district is “gerrymandering."
In Florida, there 20 Republicans and 8 Democrats, an increase of one from 2020 after the U.S. Census.