A Florida appeals court reinstated the congressional map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, staying a lower court’s order while the state’s appeal of the redistricting lawsuit continues.
This means the map passed by the Legislature and signed by DeSantis, which dismantles a Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee district that allowed Black voters to elect candidates of their choice, is back in effect.
Jacksonville’s Black voters have had a district drawn to protect their ability to elect their preferred candidates since 1992. If the enacted map remains in effect, this will be the first election in 30 years without those protections.
Friday’s order is the latest salvo as the redistricting lawsuit has pingponged back and forth between the enacted map and a court-ordered map.
First, a Tallahassee judge ordered a new map, which preserved much of the current 5th Congressional District. Then an appeal stayed that order. Then the judge lifted the stay. Now a stay is back in effect while the state appeals the judge’s order.
The 1st District Court of Appeal order, which is unsigned, says that “there is a high likelihood that the temporary injunction is unlawful,” indicating the court seems ready to strike down the whole order.
The appellate court did not say the lower court’s map or the preserved 5th Congressional District was illegal. Instead, the 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision hinged on whether the trial judge used the appropriate type of injunction.
A temporary injunction, the appellate court said, should only be used to preserve the status quo, not change it.
The appellate court has not responded to requests to send the redistricting case directly to the Florida Supreme Court.
Second Judicial Circuit Judge J. Layne Smith ordered the new map last Wednesday, saying that he found “the enacted map is unconstitutional because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of their choice.”
The new map would have only affected some North Florida districts.
Democratic attorney Marc Elias, whose law firm brought the lawsuit, said on Twitter that “while disappointed by the court of appeal’s decision, we will continue to fight for fair and legal maps in Florida and around the country.”
DeSantis’ office praised the decision.
“We’re pleased with the First District Court of Appeal’s decision to reinstate the automatic stay,” his office said in a statement. “As the First District correctly noted, there is a high likelihood that the circuit court’s temporary injunction is unlawful. To avoid uncertainty and confusion in the upcoming 2022 primary and general elections, it’s important to move forward expeditiously to implement the congressional map passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.”
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, the Democrat who currently represents the 5th Congressional District at the center of the litigation, said in a statement that he is “confident that the Florida Supreme Court will undo today’s action and reinstate constitutional districts for North Florida in time for the 2022 election.”
The lawsuit alleges the whole map violates Florida’s Fair Districts amendments, but it focused a request for an injunction just on North Florida. The Legislature’s redistricting leaders admitted the new map no longer has a congressional district where Black voters are able to consistently elect candidates of their choice.
Smith ruled that the map violated the state’s requirement that redistricting plans not diminish minority voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidates in violation of the state’s constitution, but DeSantis’ staff and the state’s lawyers have argued such a requirement violates the U.S. Constitution.
Smith was initially appointed to the county bench by then-Gov. Rick Scott before DeSantis elevated him to the circuit bench.
The plaintiffs offered the expert-drawn map that the court implemented, but they had told Judge Smith that they also would’ve been fine with him just striking down the enacted map and leaving it to the Legislature to try to pass a new one.
Smith decided to order a specific new map, which largely tracked an earlier version favored by the Legislature but vetoed by DeSantis.
The deadline to qualify for office is June 17, and then the primary election takes place Aug. 23. Ballots must be sent to overseas military voters by July 9.
Florida’s department of state asked election officials Tuesday to prepare to implement either a court-ordered map or the original map signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Elections offices must notify voters if they are in a new precinct, and many offices are redrawing voting precincts to accommodate the new legislative and congressional maps.
One elections supervisor, in Columbia County, said in an affidavit that it was not possible to implement a new map, while others said it would be difficult but possible.
Most counties, including Nassau, weren’t affected by which map was ultimately chosen. In both the state-enacted map and the court-ordered one, Nassau is entirely in the 4th Congressional District.
But Duval, St. Johns, Leon, Jefferson, Columbia and Marion counties would need to make some changes.
Both St. Johns’ and Duval’s elections officials had told The Tributary they’d be able to comply with whatever court order came down.