TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Judge Layne Smith of the Leon County 2nd Judicial Circuit ruled Thursday to block proposed congressional maps supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The ruling originated in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Florida voters and a variety of advocacy groups against the maps.
Judge Smith was appointed to the bench by Gov. DeSantis in 2020, following the retirement of Judge James C. Hankinson. Previously, Judge Smith was appointed to the Leon County Court by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2015.
The judge had signaled on May 11 that he would block the redistricting plan supported by Gov. DeSantis, according to reporting by the Associated Press.
In his ruling on the congressional maps, Judge Smith selected a “narrowly” changed modification of maps approved by DeSantis during a recent special legislative session, but the now-resigning Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee and other government officials filed an appeal, halting Smith’s injunction.
Smith’s ruling chose Proposed Map A, submitted for the plaintiffs by Harvard professor of government Dr. Stephen Ansolabehere, selecting it as an “appropriate narrow remedy.” While choosing the map for use in the August primary, Smith wrote that “Proposed Map A takes the Legislature’s version of CD-5 from Plan 8015, and places it within the existing Enacted Map.”
The Enacted Map, as written by Smith, is the congressional map chosen by DeSantis and signed into law after the special session in April. Florida’s Redistricting site hosts a version of the map that was approved in special session, titled P000C0109.
Going further, Smith wrote that “Proposed Map A is designed to minimize the administrative burden within the counties affected by Proposed CD-5 by following the boundaries of the recently enacted Florida State House map to the greatest extent possible and by minimizing the number of additional precinct slips.”
When writing the order, Smith provided commentary on some of the arguments of the defendants, concerning administrative burdens for enactment of changed congressional maps and districts.
Smith said in his order that “‘administrative convenience’ is not a sufficient reason to uphold unconstitutional law.” His ruling states that the law passing the enacted map was unconstitutional due to its effect on voters in Florida, particularly that “Plaintiffs” would “suffer irreparable harm absent temporary injunctive relief” as a result of “a constitutional violation.”
To that end, Smith ordered a temporary injunctive relief and use of Proposed Map A to provide a remedy to electoral map problems ahead of the August primaries for Florida’s elections, and the subsequent November elections.
In a statement shared with WFLA.com, the governor’s office confirmed it has filed a notice of appeal with the First District Court of Appeal. It is not yet known if the case will be expedited.
“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level. We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster. We look forward to defending it,” Taryn Fenske, Director of Communications for the Executive Office of the Governor said in a statement.
All of the map changes come on somewhat of a deadline. The qualifiers for Floridians to run for federal office will be held from June 13 to June 17, according to Florida’s Department of State. A change of congressional districts affects what residents are mapped to which congressional seat.
The primaries for 2022 elections are on Aug. 23, with the General Election on Nov. 8.