TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Voting rights groups that sued state officials over a Florida redistricting plan championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis have agreed to narrow the scope of the lawsuit to a single congressional seat that was redrawn and diminished Black voting power in north Florida.
The agreement reached late last week opens the possibility that the seat will be restored to a district dominated by Black voters, depending on how a state judge rules and whether the judge’s decision survives rounds of appeals all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, according to court filings in Tallahassee.
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.
The lawsuit will now focus on that one seat and will drop similar concerns for redrawn congressional districts in central Florida and the Tampa Bay area. It also will abandon two other claims.
In their lawsuit, the voting rights groups had 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.
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, calling a special session and submitting his own map and demanding lawmakers accept it.
A federal judge originally ruled last year that the DeSantis-championed congressional map was unconstitutional, but an appellate court reinstated it before last year’s primary and general elections and sent the case back to the lower court.
A separate lawsuit over Florida’s congressional maps is pending in federal court.