Florida Supreme Court to hear appeal of map that cut Black district

The Florida Supreme Court will take up a challenge to a controversial congressional map that voting rights groups say discriminates against Black voters, though a ruling is not expected to come in time for the slate of elections in 2024.

The state’s high court agreed to hear the appeal led by Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and other groups arguing that the current map for the 5th Congressional District weakens Black voting power and goes against precedent. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis championed the map, which took away a Black majority district that was represented by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson, during redistricting following the 2020 census.

The voting rights groups appealed a December ruling from the First District Court of Appeal of Florida that said the map was legal.

Nick Warren, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told theGrio that the map violates constitutional protections for minority voters.

“It diminishes the power of Black voters in North Florida,” he said.

Voters wait in line to vote at a polling place on October 15, 2020 in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Record numbers came out for in-person, early voting which began today in North Carolina. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The map helped Republicans secure 20 out of the state’s 28 congressional seats. Lawson served the former 5th Congressional District from 2017 to 2023.

Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, a political action committee that focuses on the engagement of Black voters, told theGrio that the discriminatory map was designed in response to “the historic Black turnout” across the nation that helped lead to President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, who won the state of Florida in the 2020 election.

Republican lawmakers are trying “to undermine Black representation and Black political power,” she said.

Janette McCarthy Wallace, general counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), told theGrio that democracy cannot exist “without the Black vote” and urged that the map be redrawn.

Florida’s legislature approved the new congressional map ushered in by DeSantis in 2022, which eliminated two districts that were created to help Black voters elect representatives of their choice.

Black Voters Matter,
Fayetteville State University students get off a Black Votes Matter bus at Smith Recreation Center on March 3, 2020 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

April Albright, legal director and chief of staff at Black Voters Matter, told theGrio that DeSantis’ efforts took “away the voices of Black and brown voters in Florida and representation that they had for years.”

That year, voting rights groups sued Florida Secretary of State Lauren Lee and Attorney General Ashley Moody, as well as the state legislature, over the congressional map.

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Last September, the circuit court ruled the map was unconstitutional because the state’s Supreme Court previously determined that the district previously held by Lawson “performs for Black voters in North Florida and is therefore protected under Florida’s non-diminishment standard.”

The ruling was appealed, which led to the First District Court of Appeal reversing the lower court in December. The appeals court ruled the map was constitutional and that the voting rights groups lacked sufficient evidence to back their claim.

“There was no evidentiary basis for the conclusion that CD-5 afforded a legally cognizable Black community voting power that it did not otherwise have,” read an excerpt from the opinion.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis,
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during the second Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, on September 27, 2023. (Photo by Robyn BECK / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

The voting rights groups then petitioned the Florida Supreme Court in an effort to have the map redrawn before the 2024 election, however that is unlikely.

“It’s almost certain that we will go yet another election in which Black voters rights in Florida will have been annihilated,” Warren of the ACLU said.

Warren told theGrio, that “Even if at the end of this case, the Supreme Court decides to uphold the Constitution … Gov. DeSantis and his allies in the legislature will have gotten away with” crippling the Black vote.

Albright of Black Voters Matter told theGrio, “It’s unfortunate … that voters may not be able to have their voices heard again.”

Shropshire of BlackPAC told theGrio, “Republicans want to pick their voters as opposed to letting voters pick their representatives.”

“These efforts are designed to make sure that those who are representing us don’t actually have our community’s best interest at heart,” she added.

Black voters,
In this Nov. 3, 2020, file photo, voters standing in line at Precinct 36 as they wait to vote in the general election in Jackson, Miss. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Wallace of the NAACP told theGrio, “As we continue to experience extremist attempts to erode progress within our nation, it is more important than ever that we protect this sacred right.”

“Voting is power and is paramount to progress. We must refuse any attempts to suppress our voices and continue carrying this nation forward,” she said.

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The Florida Supreme Court will consider a challenge to the state’s congressional map that critics say discriminates against Black voters. The challenge is being led by Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute and other groups, arguing that the current map weakens Black voting power and goes against legal precedent. The map was championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who took away a Black majority district represented by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson during redistricting in 2022. The map was upheld by the First District Court of Appeal of Florida, but voting rights groups argue that it violates constitutional protections for minority voters. They say the map, which helped Republicans secure 20 out of the state’s 28 congressional seats, is designed to undermine Black representation and political power. The case is unlikely to be decided before the 2024 elections, and critics worry that Black voters’ rights in Florida will continue to be harmed by the current map. They are calling for the map to be redrawn to ensure fair representation for Black and brown voters.

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