While Democrats staged a sit-in and led chants, the Florida Legislature approved Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map, which will further Republican gains and eliminate a Black ability-to-elect district in Jacksonville.
The Florida House went into an informal recess as a result of the protest, led by Jacksonville state Rep. Angie Nixon and Orlando state Rep. Travaris McCurdy. Then House Speaker Chris Sprowls gaveled the chamber back into session and promptly called for a vote while the protest was ongoing.
The map passed on a party-line vote of 68 to 38.
Nixon and McCurdy staged the protest after Rep. Yvonne Hinson refused to yield time during debate on the redistricting maps, which would eliminate Black ability-to-elect districts in Jacksonville and Orlando.
DeSantis had vetoed the Legislature’s earlier Florida redistricting proposal, saying it was inappropriate to draw a race-conscious district in Jacksonville. Instead, his proposal drew two likely-Republican districts in Northeast Florida.
In 2020, Donald Trump would’ve won 20 of the state’s 28 congressional districts. In 2018, DeSantis would’ve won 18 of the seats. In 2016, Trump would’ve won 17 seats.
In a statement, Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls criticized Democrats. He said they “decided to hijack the legislative process, violating House Rules and interfering with the rights of their fellow elected colleagues to debate important legislation before the body.”
The new map invalidates a past federal lawsuit over the redistricting impasse, but it will likely set up new lawsuits. Those lawsuits are unlikely to affect this fall’s congressional elections. Last decade, lawsuits didn’t affect congressional maps until the 2016 election cycle.
“Florida will be sued,” tweeted Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer who had filed suit in last decade’s redistricting litigation and who had filed one of two suits this year alleging redistricting had reached an impasse.
DeSantis’ staff redrew most of the map in a way that maximizes GOP results. DeSantis’ map-drawer, Deputy Chief of Staff Alex Kelly, said he didn’t look at partisan results and that the map only considered things like compactness, county and city splits and honoring roadways and waterways.
But those decisions weren’t always consistent.
In Jacksonville, Kelly said it was important to have one district that follows the St. Johns River, which creates a Republican-leaning district comprised of Nassau, Clay and parts of Duval County. But in Tampa, he chose to cross Tampa Bay, which happens to create a more heavily Democratic district that makes the surrounding districts more Republican.
Kelly also said that he drew every district in a race-neutral way, but he then conceded that he was “watching closely” the Hispanic population of Congressional District 26, which stretches from Hialeah across vast unpopulated land to Immokalee. Staff admitted the district sacrifices compactness in order to take race into account.
A UCLA report has found that Hispanic voters in Dade don’t vote cohesively as a voting bloc, a key requirement the U.S. Supreme Court has laid out for allowing race to be a major factor in redistricting.
DeSantis vetoed the Legislature’s earlier map, claiming it relied too heavily on race in drawing a Duval-only 5th Congressional District. The redistricting committee chairmen and their staff had said the district would continue to allow Black voters to elect their preferred candidates while being more compact and honoring county lines.
House Republicans initially rejected DeSantis’ intervention. When an expert picked by DeSantis testified at a committee and made it sound like case law had invalidated the state’s Fair Districts standard, the Republicans pushed back and noted inconsistencies in how he was using the case law.
Yet when DeSantis cited the same case law in his veto memo, those same Republicans said the case law was news to them and changed their opinion.
The Fair Districts standards incorporated two sections of the federal Voting Rights Act into the state Constitution — Section 2’s protection against vote dilution and Section 5’s protection against diminishing minority voting power.
The Section 2 standard is harder to meet under case law, but the Section 5 standard is easier.
To qualify for Section 2 protections, you must be able to draw a compact Black-majority or Latino-majority district. That requirement hasn’t applied in Section 5 cases.
But after DeSantis’ veto, the Republican redistricting chairmen in the House and Senate said that the Section 2 requirements applied to the Section 5 language, which is why the 5th Congressional District did not qualify for protections.
Kelly explicitly told the Legislature the Florida Supreme “Court got it wrong” when it threw out last decade’s maps.
DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, argued that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions related to maps in Wisconsin and Alabama show that the court is adopting a stance that makes it harder to consider race in redistricting.
DeSantis has argued that protecting Black voters from having their voting power diminished in the 5th Congressional District isn’t a compelling state interest.
State Rep. Tracie Davis, who previously worked at the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office and has been outspoken on voting issues, pointed to Jacksonville’s history of racism, including school segregation, the redlining and underinvestment of the Eastside and the violence against civil-rights protesters during Ax Handle Saturday.
“My community is angry and I can’t even say — maybe it’s not anger, we’re just infuriated,” she said during debate. “We consistently experienced attacks. We’ve been attacked on our right to vote. We’ve been attacked on our right to protest. We’ve been attacked now on our representation.”
Even before Democrats staged their sit-in protest, Republican Rep. Erin Grall, who oversaw the debate from the speaker’s chair, chided Democrats who compared the redistricting plan to historical sins.
“If you want to talk about historical facts, that’s fair game,” she said, “but to call out other members of this chamber being related to those historical facts based on a vote is inappropriate.”
Democratic Rep. Ramon Alexander responded, “Just as some members may be offended by these words, I’m offended by this map.”
The Fair Districts standards also prohibit drawing districts to “favor or disfavor a political party” and they require compact districts that respect county and city boundaries and rivers and roadways.
Democrats bizarrely claimed that DeSantis’ plan would pack Black voters in the 14th Congressional District, which now crosses Tampa Bay to connect St. Petersburg with Tampa.
The district, in fact, reduces the Black voting-age population by adding more white Democrats. It may pack in Democrats, but it actually reduces, not increases, Black voters in the district.
“It appears that you’re packing more people into that district, packing more African-American voters,” Learned said about the district that would see fewer, not more, Black voters. “Is this the intent that we can pack more and more Black voters into fewer districts in order to maximize Voting [Rights] Act compliance?”
The vetoed map would have more closely reflected the statewide partisan makeup. In 2016 and 2020, 13 of the 28 districts would have voted more Democratic than the state as a whole in the presidential elections. In 2018, half of the districts voted more Democratic than the state and half voted more Republican in the gubernatorial and senate elections.
The new map more strongly favors Republicans.
It also renumbers some of the districts. In Jacksonville, the 4th Congressional District and the 5th Congressional District switch numbers.
The Duval, Clay and Nassau district is the new 4th District, and the Duval and St. Johns district is the 5th District.
While a majority of the new 4th District’s population comes from Jacksonville, its GOP primary will be dominated by Clay and Nassau, home to two-thirds of GOP primary votes in the district. It’s likely whoever wins the primary will represent the district.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted thanks to DeSantis after the map passed, saying it means “more Jax representation in DC.” In fact, the seat will see fewer of its primary voters — who will likely decide the winning nominee — come from Jacksonville than the previous version.
Curry announced Thursday that he would not run for the seat. Sen. Aaron Bean, who represents Nassau County and parts of Duval, is considering running for the seat.