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Panel of Judges to Deliberate Whether DeSantis Engaged in Discrimination Against Black Voters

TALLAHASSEE – Attorneys for voter groups and the state delivered closing arguments Tuesday in a federal trial to make a decision whether Gov. Ron DeSantis intentionally discriminated against Black voters by enacting a congressional map which erased a North Florida seat long held by a Black Democrat. Latest district boundaries pushed by DeSantis scattered lots of of hundreds of Black voters across 4 North Florida districts where they seem to have little political impact. All 4 seats were won by GOP members of Congress. Republicans captured 20 of Florida’s 28 districts, a four-seat gain last fall that helped the party gain command of the U.S. House. DeSantis has taken credit for the GOP’s success as he now campaigns for the party’s presidential nomination, by which he’s trailing far behind former President Donald Trump.

“It’s blatantly about race from Day 1,” said Gregory Diskant, attorney for plaintiffs including the NAACP, Common Cause, Fair Districts Now, and individual voters who want the congressional boundaries thrown out by the court. They charge that DeSantis violated the U.S. Structure’s equal protection and voting rights protections with the Republican-heavy map that has left no Black member of Congress from North Florida for the primary time in 30 years.

“Why did he care about this a lot?” Diskant said, answering by claiming that “racial animus” was behind the governor’s actions. “He didn’t need a Black performing district in North Florida,” he added.

Seat held by Black Democrat targeted
DeSantis singled out the district held by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat from Tallahassee, for elimination last 12 months by labeling it racially gerrymandered – with the governor also claiming that it violated the U.S. Structure’s equal protection clause. Mohammad Jazil, attorney for the DeSantis administration, said racial discrimination was removed from the governor’s intent. As a substitute, he said DeSantis was focused only on assuring that Florida lawmakers wouldn’t recreate what the governor alleged was an unconstitutional district linking Black communities within the Tallahassee-area to those in Jacksonville. Jazil and witnesses for the state contend that DeSantis determined that the east-west district exposed a conflict between the state structure’s Fair District amendments and federal equal protection standards. Fair Districts prohibit diminishing the ability of minority voters in a district to elect a candidate of their alternative. But DeSantis got here up with what even Republican lawmakers termed a “novel” legal theory that the amendments violated equal protection, although no courts have determined that.

“I feel we’ve established that there isn’t any intentional discrimination,” Jazil said in arguing before the three-judge panel presiding over the case.

DeSantis’ map-maker said court ‘got it unsuitable’
The governor’s interim chief-of-staff and chief map-maker, J. Alex Kelly, who Tuesday was recalled to testify and have become the last witness within the case, had last week declared that the Supreme Court, “got it unsuitable,” when creating the Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district. It was represented by Lawson from 2016 until he lost last fall to U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Panama City, in a redrawn, Republican-favored seat. Determining that DeSantis intentionally acted to discriminate against Black Floridians is a potent charge against the governor and sure difficult for plaintiffs to prove. The judges – two appointed by Republican presidents and the third named by former President Barack Obama – said they expect to rule on the case by the tip of the 12 months. DeSantis accused of discriminating

Redistricting trial: Voters’ groups say DeSantis ‘on mission’ to chop Black district
How DeSantis got his way
Special session: Florida lawmakers heeding Gov. DeSantis’ demand for brand new congressional map, enraging opponents
The governor, though, has enraged many Black voters together with his attacks on diversity programs, how Black history is taught, and enacting tough penalties on demonstrations stemming from the Black Lives Matter movement. The Lawson seat included a 46% Black voting age population. DeSantis vowed to create what he called a “race-neutral” map and got the Republican-controlled Legislature to go together with him, after vetoing maps approved by lawmakers. One map approved by the Legislature created a Black-leaning district confined to the Jacksonville-area only and included a back-up map which retained Lawson’s east-west district, in case the DeSantis plan was struck down by a court. DeSantis vetoed maps more favorable to Black voters

But DeSantis vetoed those maps and ordered lawmakers right into a special session last 12 months, where his plan was adopted. The North Florida districts won by Republicans include Black voting age populations starting from 13% to 32%. A Black Democrat had represented North Florida in Congress since 1993, but after last fall’s elections, there are none. A state court last month ruled that the congressional plan is unconstitutional for violating the state structure’s Fair Districts standards. The state has appealed, and arguments are set for Oct. 31 within the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Over 4 days of testimony in federal court, the three judges heard presentations from several redistricting experts, House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa, and Kelly from DeSantis’ office. Jazil, for the state, focused on testimony intended to point out that the boundaries in place for last fall’s elections weren’t crafted with discrimination in mind. He seized last week on statements by a witness for the voting groups – historian and voting expert J. Morgan Kousser – who contended that districts with a minimum of a 30% Black voting age population might be able to electing a Black lawmaker. One in every of the North Florida seats, Congressional District 4, where U.S. Rep. Aaron Bean, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, was elected, has a 32% Black population.

“Someone seeking to exclude Black voters from a district that had a district with 30% Black voters could be pretty bad if that’s what they drew, right?” Jazil asked Kousser.

The historian rejected Jazil’s implication, declaring that the 30% was a general level and that a number of other voting patterns would must be considered to find out whether Black voters had a real opportunity to elect a candidate of their alternative, as earlier court rulings and the Florida Structure have required within the region. One other plaintiffs’ witness, Matt Barreto, a UCLA political scientist and pollster for President Joe Biden, was similarly grilled by Jazil. Barreto, though, said that while some past election results showed Republicans winning by margins of lower than 5% in these latest North Florida congressional districts, the relative closeness of the outcomes fit with a pattern seen when political map-drawers intentionally “crack” Black voting strength.

“I might say some are close,” Barreto testified concerning the election results. “But they’re consistently within the losing direction” for Black Democrats.

Map already declared unconstitutional in state court
DeSantis is seeking to dodge a second defeat for his congressional map, after Leon County Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh rejected the state’s contention that maintaining the Tallahassee to Jacksonville district would violate the U.S. Structure’s equal protection clause, mainly by hurting white voters. As a substitute, Marsh upheld the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which prohibit creating boundaries that diminish a likelihood for minority voters to elect a candidate of their alternative. The first DCA surprisingly took control of the case on appeal from the DeSantis administration despite agreements from each the state and plaintiffs, which include Black Voters Matter and the League of Women Voters, that any appeal should go straight to the Florida Supreme Court. Amid growing concerns a couple of potential delay in deciding the state case, the federal case possibly may lead to a swifter end result on whether state lawmakers must redraw the congressional map and re-establish a North Florida district more favorable to electing a Black member of Congress before next 12 months’s elections. The 2024 legislative session begins in January, and it’s through the two-month session that repairs to the congressional map might be made, based on court directions.

U.S. Supreme Court rulings last summer could have bolstered the claims of voters’ groups suing over Florida’s congressional map. At the same time as the trial opened last week in Tallahassee’s U.S. District court, justices again acted, refusing Alabama’s request to reinstate a congressional map drawn by the Republican-held Legislature which had just one majority-Black district. As a substitute, it’s likely that a brand new map shall be in place before next 12 months’s elections. Justices in a 5-4 ruling in June said that Alabama lawmakers had denied Black voters an affordable likelihood to elect a second U.S. representative of their alternative. While limited to Alabama, the newest decision will likely affect other states, including Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas, with each embroiled in courtroom clashes over race and redistricting.

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