|Rep. Al Lawson|
A congressional map approved by Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and drawn by his staff is unconstitutional because it breaks up a district where Black voters can choose their representatives, a state judge said Wednesday.
Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith said he would issue a formal order Thursday or Friday to keep the maps from taking effect in November’s election. He made it clear he would rule in favor of voting rights groups challenging the maps.
The challenge focuses on a north Florida district now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. The district runs from Jacksonville west more than 200 miles (322 kilometers) to Gadsden County and nearly half of its population is Black.
Smith said that while the DeSantis map is more compact, the issue of allowing Black voters to choose their representatives is more important.
“The district that has since been enacted and signed into law by the governor does disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts,” Smith said in a video call with both sides. “The African American population is nowhere near a plurality or a majority.”
Smith said the order will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March. The governor vetoed the bill and later called the Legislature back into special session. The Republican-dominated House and Senate chose not to draw a new map, and instead passed the DeSantis map.
“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said in a statement emailed to news outlets. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.”