Specifically, Smith said DeSantis eliminated the 5th Congressional District currently held by Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.), a Black Democrat.
Florida’s redistricting process has dragged on for months. The Legislature initially approved congressional maps but the governor vetoed them. The Legislature then held a special session in April to approve DeSantis-backed maps that give Republicans a 20-8 congressional seat advantage.
But voting and civil rights groups sued to halt those from going forward, arguing that they violate the state’s Fair Districts provisions — amendments in Florida’s Constitution that bar gerrymandering.
DeSantis’ map nixes Lawson’s seat, which stretches 200 miles from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, and in the process takes 360,000 Black voters in that district and distributes them in four separate congressional seats.
Smith, who was appointed to the circuit bench by DeSantis, said that redistribution of Black voters dilutes their ability to elect a candidate of their own choosing.
In a motion filed Friday, voting and civil rights groups challenging DeSantis’ maps asked Smith to allow his initial ruling blocking the plan to immediately take effect rather than temporarily set aside that ruling until legal appeals are complete.
They argued that time is essential because the lengthy appeal process will almost certainly extend past the date when they can fix the redistricting mess ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Qualifying for Florida’s primary starts on June 13, with the primary scheduled for Aug. 23.
“Allowing the automatic stay to remain in place would almost certainly result in irreparable harm to Plaintiffs and countless other Florida voters, who may be forced — simply as a result of the delay following from the stay — to vote under an unconstitutional map, which operates to diminish the political power of Black voters in North Florida in particular,” read the motion, penned by attorney Frederick S. Wermuth.
“A remedial plan likely must be in place within the next few weeks to ensure that the 2022 congressional election proceeds under a lawful districting plan,” the motion continued.
In a 21 page order released Thursday night, one day after Smith announced his order from the bench, he said that a map drawn by a Harvard expert who testified for the groups is “the best remedial option available to Florida’s administration and voters.”