Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed Florida’s congressional redistricting maps Tuesday morning, and the Florida Legislature’s Republican leadership indicated a new willingness to redraw their plans to win over DeSantis’ support.
DeSantis’ veto came almost immediately after the Legislature finally transmitted its approved redistricting plans. The Legislature will hold a special session from April 19 through April 22.
DeSantis has claimed the congressional plan is unconstitutional because the Legislature made race a primary factor in drawing a Jacksonville-only congressional district. His own proposals would’ve drawn one district spanning Duval, Clay and Nassau counties and another spanning Duval and St. Johns counties.
The Legislature drew four districts that it said protects Black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates.
The vetoed plan also included 10 districts won by Joe Biden in 2020, and 14 districts won by Democrats Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson in 2018 and 14 won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. In the 2020 elections, 13 of the 28 districts were more Democratic than the state as a whole, while 15 were more Republican.
DeSantis said that he believed the U.S. Supreme Court may override the Florida Supreme Court’s decisions last decade when the court ordered the drawing of a Jacksonville to Gadsden County district.
Previously, House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson resisted DeSantis’ promises of a veto in passing the Legislature’s congressional plan, but on Tuesday, they expressed more of a willingness to work with DeSantis in drawing new maps during the special session.
“Our goal is for Florida to have a new congressional map passed by the Legislature, signed by the Governor, and upheld by the court if challenged,” their statement said. “Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to exhaust every effort in pursuit of a legislative solution. We look forward to working with our colleagues and Governor DeSantis during the upcoming special session on a congressional map that will earn the support of the legislature and the governor and fulfill our constitutional obligation for the 2022 redistricting process.”
Meanwhile, DeSantis said, state and federal courts should halt proceedings on lawsuits that alleged the Legislature would not be able to overcome its impasse with DeSantis.
House and Senate Democrats joined DeSantis in opposing the legislative maps, albeit for different reasons. Thanks to Democrats’ opposition, the Legislature did not appear able to override his veto.
House Democrats have been opposed to every map proposal. They even expressed opposition to a Senate-approved plan that received bipartisan accolades and would’ve seen 15 out of 28 districts won by Hillary Clinton, 14 won by Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson and 12 won by Joe Biden.
At the time, Rep. Joe Geller, who was Democrats’ ranking member on the redistricting committee, said that a Jacksonville-only district would not protect Black voters’ ability to elect.
He reversed himself after DeSantis’ veto, saying, “DeSantis vetoed the Congressional maps solely because they protected Black voters’ ability to choose a candidate of their choice, as required by the Voting Rights Amendment and the Florida constitution.”
Yet just before voting against the redistricting maps, Geller had said they were “blatantly unconstitutional.”
Senate Democrats praised their chamber’s process but they expressed concerns that the House-drawn maps — which were the ones that were vetoed — were drawn to appease DeSantis.
Much of the debate has centered around Jacksonville’s Black voters.
The House and Senate’s GOP leadership have said those voters deserve special protections under Florida’s Fair Districts standards, which bar diminishing their voting strength.
DeSantis, however, has said it violates the 14th Amendment to make race a primary consideration in redistricting, and he doesn’t believe complying with the state’s Fair Districts standards would constitute a compelling interest.
The House and Senate redistricting committee chairmen said they believed it was possible to draw a compact Duval-only district that still protected Black voters’ ability to elect, and that was the version that made it into the final approved plan.
Even though it was more compact, DeSantis still vowed to veto it because the Legislature drew it intentionally to protect Black voters. He criticized the Legislature again Tuesday.
“In their, I guess, understandable zeal to try to comply with what the Florida constitution required, they forgot to make sure what they were doing complied with the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” he said.
DeSantis said he believes the Legislature’s leadership “now understands” that the U.S. Supreme Court “will limit the role that race plays” in redistricting.
Senate Redistricting Chairman Ray Rodrigues seemed to confirm that in an interview with CNN, citing recent Supreme Court decisions. “The governor has a legitimate point,” Rodrigues told CNN. “Let’s see if there’s a way the map can be drawn to address it.”
Some Democrats say they still oppose the redistricting plan approved by the Legislature and would not help Republicans override DeSantis’ veto anyway.
“I did not vote for the submitted maps and I will not be part of any plan to override a veto,” said Rep. Kelly Skidmore, who served as the lead Democrat on the congressional redistricting subcommittee.
During the debate over the maps, there were two main race-neutral reasons for drawing a Jacksonville-only district cited by Republicans: it creates a more compact map, and it ensures that each of the seven most populous counties have a district wholly within them.
A federal judge has scheduled a status hearing for next week for one of the lawsuits arguing the Legislature and DeSantis would not be able to pass a new map in time for this fall’s primaries. That lawsuit was brought by Common Cause, FairDistricts Now and five voters.
Ellen Freidin, the CEO of FairDistricts Now, criticized DeSantis’ veto.
“Apparently, Gov. DeSantis believes that trampling on the rights of minority voters and turning back the clock to ignore those rights will enhance his standing with Florida and national voters,” she said in an email to The Tributary. “FairDistricts Now hopes the Legislative leaders will not allow the governor to bully them into disregarding those hard-earned rights. We will do everything in our power to ensure that those rights are protected and are enforced.”