WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Sept. 26, a federal trial begins in the contentious legal fight over Florida’s 5th Congressional District. A federal three-judge panel will decide whether or not the elimination of a historically Black-performing district in North Florida violates the 14th and 15th Amendments’ prohibition on intentional racial discrimination.
In March 2022, pro-voting groups and Florida voters filed the lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Secretary of State Cory Byrd (R) and Republican state legislators during an impasse between the Florida State Legislature and DeSantis last spring. The complaint argued that, given the gridlock between the Legislature and DeSantis over the new congressional map, there was a high likelihood that new congressional districts based on 2020 census data would not be enacted in time for the 2022 election cycle.
After the Florida Legislature ultimately passed DeSantis’ proposed congressional map during a special session, the plaintiffs filed an amended complaint claiming the newly enacted map violated the 14 and 15th Amendments since it was enacted with racially discriminatory intent. DeSantis and Byrd moved to dismiss the case, but the request was denied.
The court dismissed the governor as a defendant since his official duties did not involve enforcement of the illegal map, but stated his “alleged motivation for proposing the recently-enacted congressional districting map goes to the merits of the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment claims.”
At trial, the plaintiffs will argue that DeSantis “hijacked the redistricting process in an unprecedented manner” and forced the Legislature to enact a map that eliminated the 5th Congressional District, which enjoyed Black representation for three decades — until 2022. The plaintiffs assert that in “cracking” this district and dispersing Black voters across four majority-white districts, he and the Legislature “committed intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment.”
The state defendants will assert that the map was not drawn with discriminatory intent and that the plaintiffs lack standing to request the restoration of the original district.
Florida’s 5th Congressional District also sits at the center of another lawsuit in Florida state court. In September, Florida Judge Lee Marsh struck down the state’s congressional map, holding that it violates the state constitution by denying Black Floridians the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice in North Florida.
The state appealed this decision, automatically pausing the ruling pending further review by Florida’s First District Court of Appeals, the state’s mid-level court. The plaintiffs in the federal case heading to trial today contend that the state court case should not delay the federal trial and “should have no impact except for the persuasive value of the state court’s opinion.”
The trial is expected to last up to eight days. As Florida’s congressional map faces an uncertain future in state court, this federal trial may offer another path to resurrect North Florida’s Black-performing district.