Miami Appeals Decision Striking Down Racially Gerrymandered Commission Districts

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last Friday, the city of Miami appealed a recent decision that struck down the city’s commission districts for being unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. 

In an April 10 ruling, federal district Judge K. Michael Moore — a George H.W. Bush appointee — sided with local organizations and individual residents who alleged in a federal lawsuit that Miami’s five-member city commission districts were “drawn along racial lines for the predominant purpose of maintaining racially segregated districts.” As the city’s governing body, the commission has the power to pass local laws, adopt regulations and more. 

After holding a bench trial in January, Moore found that the city’s commission map was intentionally designed to sort “citizens based on race…thereby denying them the equal protection of the laws that the Fourteenth Amendment promises.” The invalidated map included three majority-Latino districts along with one majority-white and one majority-Black district. 

The city appealed to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just one day after the commission deferred a vote on a proposed settlement agreement with organizations that brought the federal legal challenge to the districts. In a press release, the ACLU of Florida said that the settlement, in addition to implementing fairer districts for use over the next decade, would place city-level redistricting reforms on the ballot in 2025. 

Despite being poised to approve the settlement at a meeting last Thursday, the commission ultimately voted 4-0 to postpone a decision on the settlement to a May 23 meeting. According to reporting from the Miami Herald, some commission members did not want to vote on the settlement in light of Commissioner Damian Pardo’s absence from the May 9 meeting. Pardo, however, said he would have approved the settlement and was “disappointed” by his colleagues’ decision to defer the vote. 

Meanwhile, Commissioners Manolo Reyes and Joe Carollo expressed concerns that the proposed map wouldn’t create an ethnically diverse commission, with Carollo saying he believed that the city had “an excellent chance of overturning [the court’s ruling] in an appeal.”

Notwithstanding Friday’s appeal, Florida ACLU Interim Executive Director Howard Simon told the Miami Herald that “[t]he settlement is still on the table.” In suggesting that they city’s appeal would not necessarily derail the possibility of a resolution between the parties, Simon added that “[t]he people of Miami deserve fair redistricting maps that are not racially discriminatory…We are hopeful commissioners will approve the agreement next Thursday and end this lengthy court battle.”

The litigation over the commission’s map has been proceeding through the federal court system for almost a year and a half and previously reached the 11th Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court — both of which prevented a redrawn map from going into effect prior to the city’s November 2023 elections. 

Citing ongoing settlement negotiations in the wake of Moore’s April 10 ruling, the parties previously agreed to pause court-supervised proceedings over how the city would remedy its constitutional violation. The parties are expected to provide a status update to the district court by the end of today, after which Moore could decide to lift the pause on court proceedings or allow the parties to continue with their own settlement negotiations. 

The Miami City Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for May 23 at 9 a.m. EDT. 

Read the notice of appeal here.

Learn more about the case here.