TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Voting rights groups sued Florida on Friday over a map of Congress drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis and passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature, saying it would reduce black representation in the state and would benefit Republicans.
Florida lawmakers approved the map Thursday as part of a contentious three-day special legislative session in which black and Democratic representatives staged a sit-in on the House floor, prayed and sang “We Shall Overcome” in protest.
DeSantis, who is considered a top presidential candidate in 2024, signed the measure on Friday.
The League of Florida Women Voters, Black Voters Matter Capacity Building Institute, Equal Ground Education Fund and others filed suit in state court in Tallahassee. The case alleges that the new map violates provisions of the Florida Constitution that prohibit districts from diluting the electoral power of minorities and being drawn to benefit one political party over another.
“He wants to rig the state and he wants to do it by drawing lines that unfairly represent the state and our voting population,” Jasmine Burney-Clark, founder of Equal Ground, said in a phone interview. “We also know he has ambitions to become president of the United States, and creating a Congress that is more sympathetic to the issues he would likely push in his administration makes it easier for him to do so.”
The lawsuit names as defendants Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and House and Senate Republican leaders, among others. Their offices did not immediately return emails seeking comment.
DeSantis took the unusual step of vetoing the map drawn by the Legislative Assembly earlier this year and proposing his own, calling lawmakers back to the special session to approve it. Democrats say the map heavily favors the GOP and would dismantle two districts currently held by black members of Congress.
The governor’s office drew up a map that it described as neutral on race and party affiliation, and which it said respected both the state and federal constitutions. But even supporters have acknowledged that it is likely to spark legal challenges.
Democratic State Rep. Angie Nixon, who led the protest on the House floor, expected the trial.
“The card is unconstitutional and illegal and they knew it,” she said in a phone interview.
She said she had heard rumors that she was going to be punished for her protest, but said it was minor compared to the actions civil rights leaders have endured to seek racial equality.
“I cried this morning,” she said in a trembling voice. “I cried because I thought about what my grandmother went through, and my grandfather, and my ancestors who risked their lives to vote, to have a voice to be heard, to be respected. “
Florida’s congressional delegation now has 16 Republicans and 11 Democrats, and the state is poised to win a seat in the US House based on the results of the 2020 US Census. Many political observers have said that the DeSantis card could give the Republicans a 20-8 advantage, although the large number of unaffiliated voters in Florida could swing the election. Such an advantage would help DeSantis if he runs and wins the White House in 2024.
Of Florida’s 14.3 million registered voters, about 36% are Republicans and 35% Democrats, while the overwhelming majority of the rest have no party affiliation.
Black Floridians currently serve in five of the state’s 27 districts, making up about 19% of the delegation. Four of them are Democrats; one of them is a Republican in a majority white riding. Blacks make up about 16% of Florida’s population.
Previous maps included a long, thin district spanning northern Florida that would have largely left black Democratic Rep. Al Lawson’s constituency intact. DeSantis chose this neighborhood, saying it violated compactness guidelines.