The Bryan Simpson U.S. Courthouse in Downtown Jacksonville. [The Tributary]

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously denied Jacksonville’s request to stay a lower court’s racial-gerrymandering order, agreeing civil-rights plaintiffs were likely to win their lawsuit against the city’s redistricting plans.

The judges praised U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard’s “thorough 139-page Order,” finding it didn’t have any clear errors. “We … therefore agree Appellees are likely to succeed on the merits, and as a necessary corollary, Appellants [the city of Jacksonville] are not.”

Their opinion also reiterated Howard’s finding that the city’s decision to mostly maintain district lines from 2011 was based on race, ensuring the city continued to segregate voters by race. “The district court made clear that the issue was not that Appellants opted to preserve district cores,” the opinion said, “but rather that their intent was (substantially likely) to maintain the race-based lines created in the previous redistricting cycle.”

The city must submit its recently passed redistricting plan by tomorrow, and then plaintiffs will have until Nov. 18 to submit their own plans to Howard.

Howard’s decision doesn’t affect Tuesday’s elections, but all 19 City Council seats, including the seven districts struck down as racial gerrymanders, are up for election in March 2023.

The city had argued it didn’t have enough time to pass new maps by Nov. 8. But the council actually approved new district lines four days ahead of schedule.

Barbara Lagoa, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who Donald Trump appointed to the federal appeals court, wrote in a concurring opinion that the city didn’t make “any real argument” for a stay.

The city had relied on what’s called the Purcell principle, a federal doctrine that limits changes on the eve of an election, but the court found that Howard’s order, issued five months before next year’s elections, did not meet the criteria of a last-minute change.

The appeals court also agreed that a state law allowing City Council district candidates to qualify by gathering petitions countywide in “a year of apportionment” applies for the upcoming election, even though the Duval County Supervisor of Elections Office has told candidates that petitions must come from voters registered within specific districts.

The city could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or it may decide to appeal Howard’s order, arguing it was wrongly decided, not just that an appeals court should stay the decision.

City Council President Terrance Freeman and General Counsel Jason Teal didn’t return requests for comment.

Andrew Pantazi edits and reports for The Tributary. He previously worked as a reporter at The Florida Times-Union where he helped organize the newsroom's union with the NewsGuild-CWA. He is a Jacksonville...