After fits and starts, Jacksonville council approves new districts

Published on November 4, 2022 at 5:43 pm

Under the gun of a tight deadline, the Jacksonville City Council on Friday approved a new map of council districts to submit in federal court on Tuesday, the deadline set by a judge.

The map’s base configuration was drawn by an outside expert hired by the city’s legal department to avoid issues that plagued the first map, which U.S. District Judge Marcia Howard rejected as racial gerrymandering.

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Howard said the map diluted the power of Black voters by packing them into four of 14 districts, which she called a violation of the 14th Amendment.

Ten voters and four civil rights groups sued over the map and proposed their own — calling it the “Unity map” — after the judge’s ruling. City Council did not consider it.

Jason Teal, the city’s top lawyer, told council members the next step in the case is to present the map, along with the data and reasons behind each district, to the judge on Tuesday.

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“If she doesn’t like our map, then she is going to consider the plaintiffs’ map.” he said. “And we have an opportunity to argue why the plaintiffs map is unconstitutional. But you know, if we get our map in by Nov. 8, she is going to give the City Council deference.”

The vote Friday came after a redistricting committee met for three days, discussing several potential maps and winding up nearly back where they started. That map was also thrown out by an earlier vote Friday morning, but ultimately the council was able to agree on a draft after six hours of deliberation in a 16-1 vote.

The proceedings were plagued by several, disparate concerns between council members — from incumbents and candidates being drawn into different districts to neighborhoods being split from their community of interest.

Councilwoman Randy DeFoor initially opposed the map on the grounds it split the Ortega, Murray Hill, Avondale and Riverside neighborhoods, a history bloc, from one another.

Councilwoman Leanna Cumber, who is running for mayor, also opposed the map on the grounds that the council should stand by its previous map and focus on appealing Howard’s ruling.

But ultimately both came around to supporting the map, leaving only Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson in opposition.

The plaintiffs in the case, which include the ACLU, NAACP and Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, now have until Nov. 18 to submit the Unity Map or another draft of their choosing to the judge.

If the cout doesn’t consider the city’s new map valid, she can move to implement the Unity Map or another map of her choosing.

The city also submitted a request to the 11th Circuit of Appeals to stay Howard’s order ahead of the Tuesday deadline.

“The court, without consultation with any of the parties, reached out to the plaintiff’s counsel and required them to file their response by 5 p.m. [Friday], so we hope there will be a response in that brief timeframe,” Teal said. “But as far as the appeal itself, we haven’t even begun briefing. That’s going to be out a ways as far as when it will probably get resolved.”

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