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Florida News

Florida Supreme Court refuses to block DeSantis' congressional map ahead of 2022 elections

Nick Evans
/
WFSU News

The Florida Supreme Court won't hear a request to block Gov. Ron DeSantis' congressional map from determining where candidates in the northern part of the state may run in the upcoming elections.

The state Supreme Court issued its decision on Thursday, as time was running out for elections officials to have a final map in place.

Civil rights groups and voters suing over DeSantis’ map had asked the state’s highest court to adopt a plan that would preserve African American Democratic Congressman Al Lawson’s 5th Congressional District — which stretches from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County, picking up voters in parts of Tallahassee and Jacksonville — in time for the 2022 elections. In mid-May, a lower court ordered elections officials to replace the governor’s map with that plan. Reversing that decision more than a week later, an appeals court reinstated an automatic stay on the court’s order, putting DeSantis’ map back into effect.

The state's highest court denied the plaintiffs' request to lift the appeals court's stay after the majority found it lacks jurisdiction to weigh in on the matter at this time. The court also reasoned that it can't say whether it will likely have jurisdiction in the future.

"Petitioners ask this Court to intervene in the First District Court of Appeal’s ongoing consideration of an appeal of an order imposing a temporary injunction. At this time, this Court does not have jurisdiction over that matter. And it is speculative whether the First District’s eventual decision will provide an appropriate basis for this Court’s exercise of discretionary review— meaning that we cannot say that it is likely that there is any jurisdiction to protect."

Concurring with the court's majority opinion were Justices Ricky Polston, Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel, and Jamie Grosshans. All but Polston are DeSantis appointees. Polston was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was a Republican at the time.

Justice Jorge Labarga, who was also appointed by Crist, wrote a dissenting opinion. In it, he argues he doesn't think it's unlikely that the court will lack jurisdiction to review the case after the First District Court of Appeals decides on whether to lift the lower court's temporary injunction.

Recusing themselves were Justices Charles Canady and Alan Lawson.

In mid-May, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointed judge, ordered elections offices to prepare to put in place both a replacement map that preserved Lawson's district and the governor’s map pending a final decision from the higher courts. Smith found that the map violated the state constitution's Fair Districts Amendment because it would've diminished Black voting power in North Florida.

Under DeSantis' map, the region lacks a congressional district where African American voters can elect their preferred candidate.

Challenging the removal of Democratic Rep. Al Lawson's district ahead of the 2022 elections is only the beginning of a broader lawsuit. Civil rights groups, including Black Voters Matter, Equal Ground Education Fund, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Rising Together, and several voters from affected districts, are challenging several districts across the state.

“There are multiple districts that go from North Florida, Central Florida, Tampa Bay to South Florida that we are deeming unconstitutional," said Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground Education Fund. "This is just one step in the process that we were not able to get cleared for this election, but our long-term work focuses on making sure that this entire map is looked at as a whole.”

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