Florida Appeals Court Affirms Congressional Map Crafted by DeSantis

On Friday, Florida’s First District Court of Appeal upheld Governor Ron DeSantis’s congressional redistricting map, overturning a previous ruling that deemed it unconstitutional. The 8–2 decision countered the September judgment, asserting that the new map didn’t unlawfully diminish black voting influence.

The appeals court argued that the lower court misunderstood precedent, stating that the plaintiffs’ case lacked proof and should have been dismissed. Judges Adam Tanenbaum and Brad L. Thomas, in the main opinion, highlighted the plaintiffs’ failure to present evidence supporting claims related to the Fifth Congressional District’s minority community. Additionally, the court criticized the lower court for not demanding such evidence.

“In fact, it erroneously allowed the parties to stipulate this threshold element out of existence. They instead simply relied on the mere existence of former CD-5 as a Black performing district as a basis for using it as a benchmark,” the appeals court’s main opinion states.

Detractors of the state congressional map argue that it disassembled a historically “black-performing” district in northern Florida by dispersing black voters among four separate districts. This district, which stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, was previously represented by Rep. Al Lawson, a black Democrat who lost to GOP Rep. Neal Dunn by 20 points in a subsequent election following the implementation of the new map.

The legal dispute revolved around the Fair Districts Amendments of the Florida Constitution, enacted in 2010 to curb partisan gerrymandering. The amendment mandates that lawmakers provide minority communities with an opportunity to “elect representatives of their choice.”

However, the appeals court’s main opinion countered the lower court’s conclusion, stating that there was “no evidentiary basis” for affirming that the district provided a legally recognizable Black community with voting power it wouldn’t otherwise possess.

“The plaintiffs then failed to prove a proper benchmark or baseline from which to assess an alleged diminishment in voting power,” the ruling’s main opinion added.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Ross Bilbrey wrote that the district “was not just diminished—it was eliminated.”

“A politically cohesive racial minority is now denied the ability to elect a candidate of choice in a racially polarized district, showing that unconstitutional diminishment has occurred,” wrote Judge Bilbrey. He was joined in the dissent by Judge Susan Kelsey.

Genesis Robinson, a plaintiff and political director for the activist group Equal Ground, condemned the decision, asserting that it establishes a perilous precedent for the erosion of voting rights in Florida. Robinson accused Governor DeSantis of manipulating the voting rights of black Floridians for political advantage.

“When voters overwhelmingly passed the Fair District Amendments in 2010, this was the very type of political corruption and partisan favoritism they sought to rid from our state,” he added in a statement.