Even though the Jacksonville City Council has not held a single redistricting meeting in the week since a court ordered it to draw new district maps, the city asked the court to halt its previous order because the city said the court didn’t give the council enough time.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard barred Jacksonville from using its City Council and Duval School Board district maps, finding that seven City Council and three School Board districts were likely racially gerrymandered.
She gave the City Council until Nov. 8 to pass a new map that did “not use race as a predominant factor in the design of any district unless that use of race is narrowly tailored to comply with a constitutionally permissible compelling government interest.”
She also told the city that if the “City Council determines that it will not pass an interim remedial plan, the City must notify the Court immediately.”
In its motion filed Wednesday, the Jacksonville City Council said Howard’s 28-day timeline wasn’t workable. The motion didn’t mention that the council has only scheduled four meetings over that 28-day timeline.
“Defendants do not believe that a new map can be produced in those timeframes,” the city said in its motion. If Howard rejects the city’s request, the city said it would need time to appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The first of four redistricting meetings is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. and will last one hour. In total, City Council President Terrance Freeman scheduled just five hours for redistricting in the 28-day window that Howard said the city needed to pass a new map.
Freeman has not returned The Tributary’s requests for comment, and the city has not yet provided its contract with Holtzman Vogel.
The city said it would continue working on its redistricting plans, but the work “might not yet be complete” by the Nov. 8 deadline. Freeman could choose to schedule more meetings.
Freeman could choose to schedule more meetings.
“The Council must now draw a map from scratch,” the city said in its motion. “And it must do so on a compressed schedule that will limit its ability to receive and respond to public input, and without the usual debate of Council members (who are part-time legislators that usually meet as a collegial body consistent with State and local requirements).”
Although the Council has not made time to begin redistricting in the week since Howard’s order, it did hold a meeting last week where it decided to appeal the order and hire Holtzman Vogel, a prestigious law firm representing Republicans in major redistricting cases.
The city retained Mohammad O. Jazil, who is defending Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional map in two lawsuits, and Jason Torchinsky, who advised DeSantis on the map and represents the National Republican Redistricting Trust. Both signed the city’s motion, which seeks to reinstate the map signed by Mayor Lenny Curry.
Freeman also announced he would lead the new redistricting committee, and the committee would consist of six Republicans and a Democrat initially appointed by a Republican governor.
Unlike the past committee, Freeman did not appoint any Duval County School Board members. Each Duval County School Board district is made up of two City Council districts, so School Board members were appointed to the past committee to offer advice on how redistricting would affect them.
The city had asked for at least three months to draw new maps, something plaintiffs said was far outside of what was normal in a court case like this. Instead, Howard agreed with the plaintiffs that 28 days was enough time.
“Two months—and especially the twenty-eight days provided in the order—is not enough,” the city wrote.
The new committee will meet today, take a two-week break, and then it will meet again on Nov. 1, Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, according to Freeman’s notice.
Freeman said the City Council would vote on the new maps on Nov. 4 at a special meeting. He said the committee “is charged with obtaining legally permissible considerations for redistricting … as well as preparing a plan.”
Courts generally only allow lawmakers to use race as a predominant factor if it’s necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Even then, they can only use race to the extent they must to draw certain protected districts, courts have said.
Plaintiffs pointed to multiple expert reports that said at least four districts packed in far more Black voters than necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
The city, however, argued its past map used party more than race by trying to pack in Democrats, not Black voters, into four out of 14 districts, even though former Redistricting Chairman Aaron Bowman had previously said partisanship was never a factor.
Judge Howard rejected that argument, saying the city only pointed to politics as the explanation for “minor tweaks” to the districts and not as an explanation for those districts’ overall sprawling designs.
The city’s charter also requires districts that are “logical and compact,” but Howard found the districts were “odd and illogical.”