DeSantis-Drawn Districts Map Begets Big GOP Boost in Congress

By John Haughey
John Haughey
John Haughey
John Haughey has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government, state legislatures, and growth and development. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he is a Navy veteran who fought fires at sea during three deployments aboard USS Constellation. He’s been a reporter for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida; a staff writer for Manhattan-based business trade publications.
April 22, 2022 Updated: April 25, 2022

Florida’s newly drawn congressional map, which has not yet been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, has already resulted at least one lawsuit but is likely to be in place for the state’s August primaries and November general elections.

The Florida Senate on Wednesday, and House on Thursday, approved DeSantis’ proposed state congressional district map after three months of contention among Republican leaders over how to reapportion the state’s 27 districts into 28 newly configured districts.

On Friday, as expected, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, Equal Ground Education Fund, Florida Rising Together, and several individual Florida voters filed a lawsuit in state court in Tallahassee challenging the new congressional map as “a naked attempt by Gov. DeSantis to rig congressional elections in favor of his own party.”

Until Thursday, Florida, New Hampshire, and Missouri were the only three states that had not adopted post-2020 Census district maps.

Once DeSantis signs the map 425 of the 435 seats in the United States Congress will be reapportioned for 2022 elections.

According to analyses by FiveThirtyEight and MCI Maps, the governor’s map creates 20 congressional districts where Republican Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential Election and eight that voted for Democrat Joe Biden.

“This has about as big of a Republican bias that Florida’s congressional map could have — and darn close to the most egregiously partisan map in the country,” FiveThirtyEight senior elections analyst Nathaniel Rakich wrote. “This map will significantly shake up Florida’s congressional delegation, as it virtually guarantees that Democrats will lose three of their House seats in Florida.”

Republicans now hold a 16-11 Florida congressional delegation advantage. Under the new map, the 28-member delegation breaks down anywhere from a 17-11 to a 20-8 GOP advantage.

But the new map will have impacts beyond the Sunshine State.

According to reviews and updated trackers posted by FiveThirtyEight, MCI, Real Clear Politics, Politico, and Fox News, until Thursday, neither party stood to make significant gains nationally from reapportionment in securing the 218 seats necessary to hold the majority in Congress.

Varied analyses maintain redistricting nationwide thus far has created between eight-to-11 more “Democratic-leaning” seats, two-to-six fewer “Republican-leaning” seats, and significantly fewer “competitive districts.”

On April 7, Politico’s classified the mapped 397 congressional seats as 183 being “strong Biden,” 153 being “strong Trump,” and 61 being “competitive districts.”

On April 4, FiveThirtyEight’s redistricting tracker indicated that of the 397 mapped districts there were 181 “Democrat-leaning” congressional districts, 182 “Republican-leaning” districts, and 34 “highly competitive” districts.

With Florida’s new map, 189-191 seats would be “strong Biden,” with anywhere from 173 to 202 being “strong Trump,” depending on how “competitive districts” are defined in varied analyses.

DeSantis’ map would dissolve two districts now represented by Black Democrats — CD 5, represented by Rep. Al Lawson of Jacksonville, and CD 10, represented by Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, who is challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for his Senate seat in November.

DeSantis called state lawmakers back to Tallahassee for an April 19-22 special session to adopt his version of new congressional district maps after vetoing the map adopted by the Legislature in March.

Florida gained more than 2.7 million residents since the 2010 census, boosting its population to 21.54 million, a 14.6 percent increase, to gain one congressional district under the United States Census Bureau’s 2020 Apportion Results, expanding its congressional delegation to 28 seats.

In January, the Senate adopted a reapportioned congressional district map that was regarded as “fair enough” for most Democrats to approve.

In March, the House adopted a far “redder” map version that would have created at least 15 slam-dunk Republican districts.

In both sets of maps, Republican legislators said the state’s Fair Districts amendment approved by voters in 2010 requires the preservation of a “historically performing minority district” in North Florida, Lawson’s CD 5.

The Fair Districts amendment prohibits districts drawn to favor or disfavor a political party or candidate and prohibits the “diminishment of minority communities’ ability to elect a representative of their choice.”

Nevertheless, DeSantis threatened to veto whatever map the Legislature approved if it kept CD 5 as a “historically performing minority district,” claiming it violates the 14th Amendment by prioritizing race over “compactness” in drawing the district.

CD 5, which spans a 200-mile swath of eight counties from Jacksonville west to Tallahassee, has been held by a Black Democrat since 1993, including Lawson since 2017.

In response to the governor’s veto threat, lawmakers produced a revised map that made CD 5 a more compact Duval County-only district.

DeSantis still vetoed it as a “racial gerrymander” on March 24 and called for the special session.

Lawmakers did not propose any more maps and only accepted or rejected those submitted by DeSantis, which they did on Wednesday and Thursday.

In a March 29 memo to DeSantis, Governor’s Office General Counsel Ryan Newman spelled out what would likely be the state’s argument in anticipated legal challenges.

Newman said the maps drawn by the Legislature violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution because they “include a racially gerrymandered district—Congressional District 5—that is not narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest.”

The 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause was installed after the Civil War to give newly emancipated Black voters a voice in Congress.

CD 5 is “a sprawling district that stretches approximately 200 miles from east to west and cuts across eight counties to connect a minority population in Jacksonville with distinct minority populations in Leon and Gadsden counties,” he writes.

Not only is the old and reconfigured district “not compact,” it “does not conform to usual political or geographical boundaries and is bizarrely shaped to include minority populations in western Leon County and Gadsden County while excluding non-minority populations in eastern Leon County,” Newman continued.

While the House’s revised map was “more compact,” Newman said the reconfiguration “has caused the adjacent district — CD 4 — to take on a bizarre doughnut shape that almost surrounds CD 5” and, as such,” the constitutional defect still exists.”

Newman said the Legislature’s maps may violate Sections 2 and 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, but DeSantis’ maps do not.

“There is no good reason to believe that District 5 needed to be drawn as a minority-performing district to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) because the relevant minority group is not sufficiently large to constitute a majority in a geographically compact area,” he wrote.

Newman acknowledged that the Legislature’s maps were designed to conform to the Fair District amendment but that lawmakers interpreted on their own, “albeit incorrectly,” that the Florida Constitution requires “a black minority seat in North Florida.”

However, he also pointed out potential issues with the governor’s new map if, or when, it is challenged in court.

“The only justification for drawing a race-based district in compliance with Article III, Section 20 (a) of the Florida Constitution. But District 5 does not comply with this provision” under the Legislature’s map, he wrote.

That passage states … “districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.”

Newman said the section is modeled after the VRA but “Relevant here is the Florida Constitution’s non-diminishment requirement.

Under this, he writes, new maps “cannot eliminate majority-minority districts or weaken other historically performing minority districts where doing so would diminish a minority groups’ ability to elect its preferred candidates.”

Even if they violate the 14th Amendment as “racially gerrymandered,” the existing districts serve as a “benchmark” in assessing the effects of post-census apportionment, Newman said.

“Where a voting change leaves a minority group ‘less able to elect a preferred candidate of choice’ than the benchmark, that change violates the non-diminishment standard,” he writes.

Thursday’s House adoption of DeSantis’ map capped a week of agitation at the capitol with Democrats disrupting the chamber vote with two Black lawmakers staging a sit-in on the floor, noting with “dark irony” that DeSantis is saying the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause is racist.

“I am occupying the Florida House chamber floors to ensure that Black people will not be forgotten. We are here to stay,” said Rep. Angie Nixon (D-Jacksonville) during the floor protest. “We are occupying the floor, we’re doing good trouble. Ron DeSantis is a bully, Ron DeSantis does not care about Black people.”

Lawson issued a statement after the vote.

“Florida House Democrats demonstrated courage today by protesting the DeSantis’ drawn map on the floor. They comprehend that this map violates the Voting Rights Act along with the U.S. and Florida Constitutions. Minority voters in Florida deserve congressional representation. It is astounding that someone tasked to lead the state is playing partisan politics for his own political aspirations.”

“Governor DeSantis is bullying the Legislature into drawing Republicans an illegitimate and illegal partisan advantage in the congressional map, and he’s doing it at the expense of Black voters in Florida,” Kelly Burton, the president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in a tweet. “This blatant gerrymander will not go unchallenged.”

That first of those challenges came Friday when the League of Women Voters lawsuit was filed in the state’s Second Circuit Court in Tallahassee.

“The League and the other plaintiffs have chosen to not stand by while a rogue governor and a complicit state Legislature make a mockery of Florida’s Constitution and try to silence the votes and voices of hundreds of thousands of Black voters,” LWV Florida President Cecile Scoon said. “It is our belief the shameful refusal to protect the Florida Supreme Court’s previously created Black districts will directly harm Black voting power established by Florida Supreme Court and harms every citizen in the state, regardless of race.”

Florida’s post-2010 Census map drafted in 2012 were debated for four years before the state’s Supreme Court adopted the current map. If legal challenges play out the same way a decade later, DeSantis’ reconfigured map will go before a Supreme Court he has reconfigured by appointing three of the panel’s seven jurists.

John Haughey
John Haughey has been a working journalist since 1978 with an extensive background in local government, state legislatures, and growth and development. A graduate of the University of Wyoming, he is a Navy veteran who fought fires at sea during three deployments aboard USS Constellation. He’s been a reporter for daily newspapers in California, Washington, Wyoming, New York, and Florida; a staff writer for Manhattan-based business trade publications.