Two new lawsuits filed in Tallahassee on Friday — one in state court and another in federal court — ask judges to put in place new congressional district plans for Florida since Gov. Ron DeSantis has promised a veto of the Legislature’s approved plans and the Legislature doesn’t look like it’ll be able to override a veto.
Both lawsuits argue the Legislature has little hope of overriding a veto, and because last decade’s congressional districts no longer have equal populations — and a new 28th district has not been drawn — the court must ensure a new map goes into effect.
The deadline for candidates to qualify for congressional races is in mid-June. The primaries will take place Aug. 23.
In January, as the Legislature was finalizing its redistricting plans, DeSantis proposed his own map, which differed drastically from the state’s proposals, eliminating Black ability-to-elect districts in Jacksonville and Orlando. He and his staff lambasted the Legislature’s proposals as “unconstitutional” and asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.
When the court declined, DeSantis vowed to veto the Legislature’s map.
Still the Legislature passed two versions of congressional districts — a primary version that has a more compact Jacksonville seat and a less compact Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee seat that would have a larger Black population. Republican leadership said both versions would still protect Black voters’ ability to elect in Jacksonville. Senate leaders said the map would also protect Black voters in Orlando.
Some of the Legislature’s most conservative Republicans complained that the map improperly took race into account. They joined Democrats in voting against the plan. Only one Democrat, Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson, voted for it.
“It is a near-certainty that there will be an impasse requiring judicial intervention,” the federal lawsuit said.
The Legislature has not yet sent its adopted map to the governor. DeSantis will have 15 days to sign or veto the plan once he receives it. If he vetoes as promised, the governor could force the Legislature into a special session where it could attempt to override the veto with a two-thirds majority or try to adopt a new version of the maps that DeSantis might accept.
A spokeswoman for Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls said his office was still reviewing the lawsuit and didn’t have a comment.
Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters that “if the governor vetoes the congressional map, it will either be handled through the Legislature or the court system. We don’t know the result of that yet, so I don’t know that it would be proper to comment.”
The governor’s office have not yet returned requests for comment.
The state lawsuit was filed by Democratic attorney Marc Elias’ firm, Elias Law Group. It did not call for a specific plan to be implemented, just that the court adopt one that complies with the law.
The federal lawsuit came from five voters and two advocacy groups — FairDistricts Now and Common Cause Florida. It was filed by Jacksonville attorneys Hank Coxe and Michael Lockamy, along with lawyers from Patterson Belknap in New York and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in North Carolina.
In a Twitter Spaces discussion, attorney Marc Elias described the situation as “an unusual impasse that involves two chambers and a governor of the same party.”
He said the Legislature had done “its darndest … to propose maps that are at least within shouting distance of what is constitutional,” but he believed the governor’s proposal, which eliminated Black ability-to-elect districts in Jacksonville and Orlando, would violate the state’s Fair Districts standards.
Similarly, the federal lawsuit praised the Legislature’s efforts to comply with the state’s Fair Districts standards, both in its congressional and legislative redistricting proposals.
“Unlike the Legislature, Governor DeSantis has demonstrated that he is not willing to abide by the law, or sign a congressional plan that does, making an impasse highly likely,” the lawsuit said.
The federal lawsuit claims, “The Governor has repeatedly and inappropriately inserted himself into the congressional redistricting process, and with each intervention, the Legislature’s proposed maps have deviated further and further from the required constitutional standards.”
The lawsuit argues that if a map isn’t put in place soon, voters will suffer because they won’t know which candidates to support — since candidates don’t know what districts to file for or even if they should file until a map is in place — and it limits voters ability to hold potential representatives accountable.
The state court lawsuit was assigned to Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey, a Jeb Bush appointee.
The federal lawsuit will be heard by a three-judge panel. The panel will include U.S. District Judge Allen C. Winsor, a Donald Trump appointee, and two judges picked by Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a George W. Bush appointee.
Winsor represented the Florida House in last decade’s redistricting litigation. If he recuses, one of the other two Tallahassee-based federal district judges, both of whom were appointed by Democratic presidents, will likely take his spot on the three-judge panel.
“There is no reasonable prospect that Florida’s political branches will reach consensus and enact a lawful congressional redistricting plan in time for the upcoming 2022 elections,” the Elias state lawsuit said. “The Governor has threatened to veto any congressional map that contains the configuration of Congressional District 5 currently present in the Legislature’s proposed congressional districting plan, or any similar configuration, on the baseless ground that CD-5 is an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.”