(AP) — A Florida redistricting plan pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis violates the state constitution and is prohibited from being used for any future U.S. congressional elections since it diminishes the ability of Black voters in north Florida to pick a representative of their choice, a state judge ruled Saturday.
Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh sent the plan back to the Florida Legislature with instructions that lawmakers should draw a new congressional map that complies with the Florida Constitution.
The voting rights groups that challenged the plan in court “have shown that the enacted plan results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution,” Marsh wrote.
The decision was the latest to strike down new congressional maps in Southern states over concerns that they diluted Black voting power.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Republican-drawn map in Alabama, with two conservative justices joining liberals in rejecting the effort to weaken a landmark voting rights law. Not long after that, the Supreme Court lifted its hold on a Louisiana political remap case, increasing the likelihood that the Republican-dominated state will have to redraw boundary lines to create a second mostly Black congressional district.
In each of the cases, Republicans have either appealed or vowed to appeal the decisions since they could benefit Democratic congressional candidates facing 2024 races under redrawn maps. The Florida case likely will end up before the Florida Supreme Court.
Every 10 years — following a once-a-decade census — lawmakers in all 50 states, including Florida, redraw political boundaries.
DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, was criticized for essentially drawing Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, who is Black, out of office by carving up his district and dividing a large number of Black voters into conservative districts represented by white Republicans.
In an unprecedented move, DeSantis interjected himself into the redistricting process last year by vetoing the Republican-dominated Legislature’s map that preserved Lawson’s district. He called a special session, submitted his own map and demanded lawmakers accept it.
In their lawsuit, the voting rights groups claimed the redrawn congressional map violated state and federal voting rights protections for Black voters.
Florida’s population of 22.2 million is 17% Black. Under the new maps, an area stretching about 360 miles (579 kilometers) from the Alabama border to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Georgia border to Orlando in central Florida is only represented by white members of Congress.
The Florida judge rejected defense arguments from Republican lawmakers that the state’s provision against weakening or eliminating minority-dominant districts violated the U.S. Constitution.
Marsh wrote: “The court finds that defendants have not satisfied their burden in this case.”