DeSantis-appointed judge flags Florida congressional map unconstitutional for decreasing black representation

Judge J. Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointee in Florida’s 2nd Circuit Court, said in a hearing that he intended to issue an order granting an injunction that would prevent the law from taking effect. menu. Smith said the card violates the state constitution “because it diminishes the ability of African Americans to elect the representative of their choice.”

The order could arrive as early as Thursday. A spokeswoman for DeSantis said the judge’s decision would “undoubtedly” be appealed.

“As Justice Smith implied, these complex constitutional questions of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level. We will undoubtedly appeal his decision and are confident that the constitutional map enacted by the Florida Legislature and enacted passes into law. We look forward to defending it,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in a statement.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature pushed through the state’s new congressional boundaries along party lines in a contentious April special session. The approved map, proposed by DeSantis, controversially eliminated two districts represented by black Democrats and would give Republicans an advantage in no less than 20 of the 28 districts.

DeSantis argued that Florida’s 5th congressional district, currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson, was unconstitutional because it stretched 150 miles to connect from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

But Smith, during the hearing, said the district has historical roots in black communities along the Florida-Georgia border, once populated by plantations. He added that his hands were tied by the precedent set by the state Supreme Court, which for the past decade set the district’s boundaries after years of legal battles, and the state constitution, which states that a redistribution plan cannot diminish the ability of minority residents “to elect representatives of their choice.”

The map signed by DeSantis reduced the number of districts where blacks make up a plurality of voters, known as black access districts, from four to two. In addition to eliminating Lawson’s seat, the state map also reduced the percentage of black voters in Florida’s 10th congressional district, an Orlando-area seat represented by Representative Val Demings, a black Democrat currently running for the US Senate. DeSantis’ office accomplished this by moving the district east to whiter communities.

Florida State Rep. Kelly Skidmore, the ranking Democrat on a legislative redistricting subcommittee, said in a statement Wednesday, “No matter how many times they tried to justify themselves, it shouldn’t It should come as no surprise to the Governor and this Republican-led Legislature that the map is a violation of Florida’s Fair District Amendments and the US Constitution.”

Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers approved a different map and a backup in case a court rules the first unconstitutional. However, DeSantis vetoed it in March and then called lawmakers back to a special session to approve the new congressional boundaries. The map that was approved and promulgated was drawn by DeSantis’ office.

Smith suggested that the maps DeSantis vetoed could serve as the basis for the maps used in the 2022 election.

DeSantis appointed Smith to the circuit court in 2020. Smith previously served as a county judge appointed in 2015 by the then governor. Rick Scott, a Republican who is now the state’s junior U.S. senator.

The Republicans currently hold a 16-11 advantage in the US House delegation in Florida. The state added a 28th district following the 2020 U.S. Census.

This title and this story have been updated.

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