Federal trial underway on Florida’s congressional map

Published on September 26, 2023 at 11:25 am

A federal trial over the constitutionality of Florida’s congressional districts — including a contested district in North Florida — gets underway today.

Gov. Ron DeSantis last year signed into law a map that eliminated two of the state’s four districts where African American voters could reliably elect their candidate of choice. One of those districts was the 5th Congressional District, which stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee.

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Several civil rights groups and voters are challenging the map in federal court. They argue that the map intentionally discriminated against Black voters.

“We are alleging that the state engaged in intentional discrimination,” said Kathay Feng, vice president of programs for Common Cause, one of the plaintiffs.

The trial was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Tallahassee. It’s expected to last two weeks.

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Plaintiffs in the federal case are seeking changes to the map that could affect several districts across the state, including in North Florida, the Orlando area and the Tampa Bay region. The court could find intentional discrimination in any of the districts that plaintiffs are challenging, Feng explained.

“They could focus on the district in northern Florida or they could focus on all the districts in the state where they find there was intentional discrimination.”

DeSantis has described the map as “race neutral,” and attorneys for the state plan to make that same argument during the trial.

A challenge to the map in state court is ongoing, but that case only focuses on North Florida’s districts.

DeSantis’ Acting Chief of Staff Alex Kelly — who drew the map — is expected to take the witness stand in the federal case.

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author image Valerie Crowder is a freelance reporter based in Panama City. Before moving to Florida, she covered politics and education for Public Radio East in New Bern, North Carolina. While at PRE, she was also a fill-in host during All Things Considered. She has a bachelor's degree in newspaper online journalism and political science from Syracuse University.

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