A state circuit court judge in Florida is set to block congressional maps drawn by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), finding that they improperly and illegally diminished Black voters’ voices.
In a statement on Wednesday regarding a lawsuit seeking to block the maps, Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith — who was appointed by DeSantis himself — signaled he would block the maps concocted by the governor’s office in a formal ruling later this week.
Had the maps been allowed to remain in place, they would have reduced the number of Black-majority districts in the state by half, from four districts to two. Rep. Al Lawson, a Florida Democrat whose district would have been impacted by DeSantis’s maps, hailed Smith’s decision to strike down the governor’s boundaries as illegal.
“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.”
In his statement, Smith noted that the two majority-Black congressional districts were dismantled in a blatantly unjust way. In one of those districts, Smith highlighted how hundreds of thousands of Black voters were shifted “between four different districts” in DeSantis’s maps, effectively removing their voices from being heard in Congress.
“The African American population is nowhere near a plurality or a majority” in any of those four districts, Smith pointed out.
Smith cited the state constitution’s Fair District amendment, which prohibits maps from being drawn if they disenfranchise marginalized communities or purposely favor one political party over another.
“I am finding that the enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair District amendment … because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representatives of their choice,” Smith said in his statement.
Smith will likely replace DeSantis’s gerrymandered maps with one of two that the Republican-controlled legislature had previously passed, which the governor had vetoed earlier this year. Though still advantageous to the GOP, those maps are seen as somewhat better (though by no means perfect), in terms of respecting Black voters’ voices, than the ones DeSantis demanded be passed after his veto.
DeSantis’s office said it plans to appeal the ruling, once it’s officially made later this week. Voting rights groups, meanwhile, praised Smith’s assessment of the maps, viewing his decision to block them as the right move.
“The DeSantis’ enacted congressional map is a threat to the rule of law. … This preliminary injunction from the court is a start to ensuring that the laws of the sunshine state are followed and the voices of voters are fairly represented,” said Cecile Scoon, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder and consulting director of Equal Ground Education Fund, an organization dedicated to expanding voting rights, agreed.
“No Floridian – including Governor DeSantis – is above the law,” Burney-Clark said in a statement regarding the ruling. “This is one step forward in the fight to protect Black voters, and we will keep doing everything in our power to ensure our voices are heard.”