A panel of state appellate court judges heard arguments from attorneys Tuesday about the constitutionality of removing North Florida’s only district where African American voters could elect their preferred candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The judges still have to deliberate and make their final determination, but we feel confident in the attorneys who represent the interests of those voters who desperately want their voting rights back,” said Genesis Robinson, political director at Equal Ground, an Orlando-based voting rights nonprofit that’s suing the state over the map.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last year vetoed two proposed maps from the Legislature that would’ve preserved an African American-performing district in the region. DeSantis ultimately signed into law a map drafted by his office after calling lawmakers into a special session to pass it last April. The map divided voters in former Congressional District 5 — which stretched from Gadsden County to eastern Duval County — into four Republican-leaning districts.
A 10-judge panel of the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal is expected to issue a ruling in the case by Nov. 22. The appellate court denied a request from both sides to expedite the case to the Florida Supreme Court before deciding to take it up in September. The case could end up before the state’s highest court if either side challenges the appeal court’s ruling.
Some of the judges appeared skeptical of plaintiffs’ claims that the state’s removal of the region’s only congressional district where Black voters could elect their candidate of choice was unconstitutional. Attorneys were also asked about aspects of the case that weren’t in dispute by the parties.
“Some of these questions appeared to not have a basis in terms of what was necessarily before them,” Robinson said. “But it is our hope that these questions bring clarity to them to be able to restore congressional representation for voters in North Florida.”
The plaintiffs in the case include several voting rights groups and voters, who argue that the map violates a state constitutional provision that seeks to protect Black voting strength in the state.
Attorneys for the state argue that there was no legally acceptable way to draw an African American-performing district in the region. The defendants include Secretary of State Cord Byrd, who oversees the state’s elections, and the Florida legislature.