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Florida News

A Leon county judge will hear a request to block a legislative effort to eliminate Al Lawson's seat

 U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) speaks at a check presentation ceremony in Gadsden County on Thursday, April 14, 2022.
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
U.S. Rep. Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) speaks at a check presentation ceremony in Gadsden County on Thursday, April 14, 2022.

A congressional district that runs from Gadsden County to Jacksonville is ground zero in the fight about Florida’s congressional districts that heads to court next week.

District 5 was shaped that way to help elect a Black member of Congress — as it has done with the election of Democrat Al Lawson.

But Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis made clear that he wanted to change the district. And during a special legislative session last month, the Republican-dominated Legislature went along with DeSantis and redrew District 5 to condense it in the Jacksonville area.

Almost immediately, voting-rights groups and other opponents of the redistricting plan went to court. That included filing a motion asking a Leon County circuit judge to issue a temporary injunction against the plan, arguing that it violates part of a 2010 constitutional amendment that bars diminishing the ability of minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.”

“A temporary injunction is warranted here because plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that the DeSantis plan violates the non-diminishment provision of … the Florida Constitution by dismantling the former Congressional District 5, a North Florida district in which Black voters were previously able to elect their candidates of choice,” the motion said.

DeSantis, however, has argued that the current sprawling configuration of District 5 was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. DeSantis’ general counsel wrote that keeping the current approach would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment because it “assigns voters primarily on the basis of race but is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”

The battle — at least the first round of it — will play out Wednesday, when Circuit Judge Layne Smith holds a hearing on the motion for a temporary injunction.