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

The Jacksonville City Council failed to fix the problems with its original redistricting plan, plaintiffs argued Friday in a court filing asking a federal judge to reject the city’s second attempt at drawing new district lines.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard struck the city’s council and Duval County’s School Board district maps as racial gerrymanders, finding the City Council had segregated voters on the basis of race for decades.

The city got the first chance at drawing a new plan, submitting one last week to the court while its attempts to halt the court order failed.

The court must give deference to the city’s plan, but Howard could still reject it.

The plaintiffs, which include the The Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP, the Northside Coalition, the ACLU of Florida Northeast Chapter and Florida Rising, along with 10 Jacksonville voters, argued the city barely made changes to the seven districts struck down by Howard.

“Under Ordinance 2022-800, 89% of those four [Black-majority] districts’ residents remain there,” the order said. “Meanwhile, Districts 2, 12, and 14 (‘Stripped Districts’) feature high core-retention rates, meaning they are largely unchanged.”

Black voters, the plaintiffs said, are still packed into four districts, and the other three districts on the Northside and Westside have fewer Black residents as a result. This diminishes Black voting power.

The plaintiffs’ filing continued, “The Council had the opportunity and obligation to do better. It was required to abandon the race-based choices underlying the Enjoined Plan. It failed to do so. Instead, councilmembers focused their energy on protecting themselves and retaining the cores of the Enjoined Plan’s districts. They started with a proposal that ‘pretty much maintain[ed] a lot of what [they] like[d] about the original map,’ and then made adjustments to backslide even more.”

The city has 10 days to reply to the plaintiff’s filing. The court will hold a status hearing on Monday to discuss whether it needs an evidentiary hearing to decide on a remedial map.

The plaintiffs submitted three maps of their own, arguing the city’s new redistricting plan still violates the law, using terms like “rural” and “urban” as proxies for race.

The first two plaintiffs’ maps were drawn with communities of interest in mind, the plaintiffs said, while the third tries to make slight changes to the city’s approved plan.

“Plaintiffs are not convinced that P3 [the third proposal] will fully cure the constitutional violations, though it will come closer than” the city’s map. “Plaintiffs’ position is that, of the maps presented to the Court, only P1 and P2 are certainly curative of the underlying problem.”

Unlike the city, the plaintiffs submitted a full Voting Rights Act analysis to show their proposals would comply with the federal law. The city’s top lawyer said the council couldn’t do a VRA analysis, and he said the law was merely a “tool that local governments can use to make the case, if you will, for having a race based or minority district.”

The plaintiffs said the city council used supposed factors like protecting incumbents and candidates, maintaining the old districts, urban/rural distinctions and partisanship as substitutes for racial demographics.

“Incumbency only exists as it does because of racial gerrymandering,” the filing said. “All four [Black] incumbents live within a four-mile radius. To start the process with where incumbents live ensured the replication of key features of the racial gerrymandering.”

The city’s expert also used the terms “rural” to define white suburban neighborhoods and “urban” to refer to Black suburban neighborhoods, even when the neighborhoods he discussed had similar population densities. He said it was inappropriate to combine “rural” and “urban” communities. The terms, the plaintiffs argued, were “codewords for white and Black.”

Council President Terrance Freeman agreed with the expert about the rural and urban populations.

Councilman Sam Newby, who served as council president when the city passed its original plan that the court struck down, said he opposed the plaintiff’s proposals and hoped the court would accept the council’s new map.

“I like our original map” that the court struck down, he said. “The second map we did, I think we did a good job. I have no interest in the plaintiff’s map because our first map as well as our second map was good.”

He also said that the Jacksonville charter provides for City Council to pass its district maps, so the court should honor that by accepting the council’s map.

Yet he also said the city should ignore a separate charter provision requiring candidates reside in their districts for six months before an election. The city’s top lawyer said he would ask the court to waive that requirement, and even if the court doesn’t, he said as the Jacksonville general counsel he could issue a binding opinion waiving the rule.

That promise was key to winning the support of Councilman Reggie Gaffney. Gaffney’s son, Reggie Gaffney Jr., won a special election last week for his father’s district, but if the charter provision isn’t waived, he won’t be able to run in March for the district his father wanted for him.

Gaffney Jr. takes over from his dad on Monday.

Councilwoman Randy DeFoor initially voted against the city’s redrawn map before reversing when she was convinced the city couldn’t keep Riverside, Avondale and Ortega together. One of the plaintiffs’ three proposals keeps those communities together. She said she supports “the map that keeps neighborhoods together.”

According to an expert report, each of the plaintiffs’ maps does a better job of reducing neighborhood splits when compared to the city’s map.

The City Council will have a private meeting with the city’s lawyers to discuss strategy and settlement negotiations.

While the city has been fighting to restore its earlier maps approved in March, City Councilman Rory Diamond said he was fine with keeping the new maps the council passed.

Despite the plaintiffs winning an injunction, he also said, “I get the sense they [plaintiffs] just want to claim victory for something.”

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...