A courtroom sketch of U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard in the Jacksonville City Council redistricting case. [Steve Bridges]

A federal court rejected for a second time the Jacksonville City Council’s redistricting plan, finding that the new plan passed by the council didn’t fix the racial gerrymandering that led the court to strike down a prior map.

Instead, U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard said the city must use a redistricting plan drawn by the plaintiffs who sued the city. Those plaintiffs include the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP, the Northside Coalition, the ACLU of Florida Northeast Chapter and Florida Rising, along with 10 Jacksonville voters.

The new map will affect the coming City Council elections in March 2023. Fourteen of the city’s 19 council members are elected to districts while the other five are elected countywide. Howard previously barred the city from using maps it passed in March because seven of the 14 districts likely violated the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

“And absent an injunction, the irreparable Constitutional harm caused by the unnecessary racial segregation of voters in the Challenged Districts will be complete and perpetuate for years into the future,” Howard ruled.

The new court-ordered map will create a second competitive district (along with District 1), with the new version of District 14 going back and forth between favoring Republican and Democratic candidates over the last decade, according to a Tributary analysis of past elections.

Still, the map will continue to strongly favor the GOP countywide, according to partisan gerrymandering calculations by PlanScore.

In Monday’s order, Howard noted that even though she gave the City Council a second chance at drawing its own districts, “the City’s effort to do so was hamstrung by its failure to address Jacksonville’s thirty-year history of racial gerrymandering.”

For decades, the City Council obsessed over racial quotas for certain districts, likely packing Black voters into four of the districts far beyond what the Voting Rights Act would’ve required.

The city is still appealing Howard’s ruling, and even though Howard issued an injunction, the full lawsuit — which includes an additional claim that the council map violated the city’s charter requirement for compact districts — could go to trial.

City Councilman Rory Diamond, who served as a vice-chair of the latest redistricting committee, said he supported the city appealing Howard’s remedial order.

“I fully support an appeal of Judge Howard’s Order, as the City Council’s map complies with the Constitution,” Diamond said in a text. On Twitter, he added, “We won’t be using the Plaintiffs’ map.”

Even though Diamond may want to appeal the ruling, Duval Elections Supervisor Mike Hogan, who is the named defendant in the case, said that his office has “a lot of tedious and exacting work ahead of us,” like redrawing precinct lines and ensuring voters are placed in the correct districts. “I do not have an opinion on the ruling except for making sure my office has the time to implement the new lines,” he said.

The city unsuccessfully argued it prioritized maintaining the status quo and protecting incumbent council members, not packing Black voters.

Yet those incumbents, Howard said, were elected due to previous unconstitutional gerrymandered maps. Therefore, “the City’s insistence on protecting incumbents embedded, rather than remedied the effects of the unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.”

The city’s lawyers hired a redistricting expert to draw the new maps, but that expert, Douglas Johnson, said he did so based on criteria he received after council members’ private meetings with the city’s planning director.

Those criteria, Howard wrote, “were predestined to perpetuate, rather than correct, the preexisting racial gerrymandering in the City Council districts.”

She also seemed particularly perturbed by how little the City Council tried to fix the problems she described in her first order striking down the council’s first attempt at redistricting.

Under the council’s proposed plan, she wrote, “The voice of Black voters largely remains unchanged in that it is still confined to the Packed Districts that were the four historically majority-minority districts. It is exceedingly difficult to see how repacking the same Black voters into a new configuration of the same four districts corrects, much less completely corrects, the harmful effects of the City’s decades-long history of racial gerrymandering.”

Despite Howard’s ruling, City Council President Terrance Freeman said he was confident in the council’s work “to craft a constitutional map.” He said the council will seek guidance from the city’s lawyers on possible next steps.

Ben Frazier, a plaintiff who leads the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, hailed the ruling as “a major victory for the people.”

“This is going to change the political landscape in Duval County for years to come,” he said. “This is a major victory, and it should be a lesson for the Jacksonville City Council because they did in fact make a monumental mistake in ignoring the voice of the people. They ended up costing the city time and money. It was ridiculous. We could’ve worked all of this out. This city must begin to listen to the voice of the people.”

Councilman Matt Carlucci, who had urged his colleagues to adopt a nonpartisan approach to redistricting, praised the ruling. “I think the judge made the right decision and call. This will be good for Jacksonville.”

Similarly, Councilwoman Randy DeFoor praised Howard. “I have the highest regard for Judge Howard,” she said, “and I know that any ruling of hers has been done with considerable amount of thought and would have a strong legal basis.”

DeFoor had tried to keep Riverside, Avondale, Ortega and Murray Hill together, something the council’s expert wasn’t able to do. The court-ordered map will keep those neighborhoods together.

Councilwomen Ju’Coby Pittman and Brenda Priestly Jackson, who now live in the same district, both said they still intend to run for re-election. Priestly Jackson announced on Twitter, and Pittman told Florida Politics.

The city also asked Judge Howard to waive a city law requiring candidates to have lived in their district for six months. Howard told the city to file a motion explaining how and why she should strike the requirement.


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...