Federal Court Stands By Decision to Uphold Florida Congressional Map Eliminating Black District

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal court will not reconsider its March decision to uphold a Florida congressional map that eliminated a historically Black district, but there is still an ongoing state case challenging the map.

Florida’s congressional map was pushed through the state Legislature in April 2022 by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and eliminated the historically Black-performing 5th Congressional District covering Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

Common Cause Florida, FairDistricts Now, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP and individual Florida voters sued numerous state officials and legislators challenging the congressional map.

At a federal bench trial in September, the pro-voting groups and voters urged the court to strike down the map for violating the 14th and 15th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibit intentional racial discrimination. 

The plaintiffs argued that the map deliberately divides Black voters, who were previously in the 5th Congressional District, across four majority-white districts. Prior to 2022, the 5th District saw three decades of Black representation, most recently by Rep. Al Lawson (D), who lost his bid for reelection in November 2022.  

In January 2022, the Florida Senate passed a new congressional map that was “compliant with the law and largely successful in protecting minority voting rights, and did not appear on its face to be a partisan gerrymander,” the plaintiffs said in their complaint.

That same month, DeSantis proposed his own congressional map that eliminated the 5th Congressional District and redrew the 10th Congressional District, “which largely ignored the law” and made it “so that Black voters had no chance of electing a representative of their choice,” the pro-voting groups argued in their complaint.

On March 27, a federal three-judge panel concluded the plaintiffs “have not proven that the Legislature acted with race as a motivating factor in passing the Enacted Map.” 

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R) argued that there was no “racial animus” and that the map drawer from the Governor’s office drew the congressional districts using “geographic and political boundaries as his guidepost.”

The court said in its decision that even if DeSantis acted with “some unlawful discriminatory motive” in creating the congressional map, that doesn’t mean that the Florida legislature shared that motive in passing and adopting it.

On April 24, the plaintiffs filed a motion asking the court to reconsider the case, noting that treating DeSantis “as an outsider to the legislative process” is incorrect because he is a state actor and the Florida Constitution states that the governor’s veto and approval of legislation are both legislative functions, not executive actions.

On June 11, the court denied their motion, effectively closing the case. The judges wrote that “our unanimous conclusion was straightforward,” doubling down on their assertion that Desantis’ intentions were separate from the legislature’s motive for passing the map.

In a July 11 press release, Common Cause announced that it would not appeal the district court’s March 27 opinion to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, court battles over Florida’s congressional map are not over. In April 2022, pro-voting groups filed a lawsuit in a state court challenging the map, arguing that it violates the state constitution.

In September 2023, a trial court struck down the map for violating the Florida Constitution by diminishing Black voting power in northern Florida. Then, the defendants appealed the ruling, and in December, an appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision, deciding the map should be upheld.

The pro-voting groups appealed that ruling, and in January the state Supreme Court agreed to hear this case. However, the state’s highest court denied the plaintiffs’ motion to expedite the proceedings and has not yet set a date for oral argument.

Read the federal court’s decision to not reconsider the case here.

Learn more about the federal case here.

Learn more about the state case here.

This story was updated on July 11, 2024, at 5:01 p.m. EDT to reflect the fact that Common Cause announced it will not appeal the court’s March 27 ruling.