Appeals Court Takes Desantis' Side In Challenge To A Map That Helped Unseat A Black Congressman

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature didn't violate the state constitution when it approved congressional maps pushed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis that helped the GOP replace a Black Democratic representative with a white conservative, an appeals court ruled Friday.

The 1st District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court's ruling that the map that rewrote U.S. Rep. Alan Lawson's district was unconstitutional because it diminished Black voters' ability to elect a candidate of their choice.

DeSantis pushed to have the district dismantled. He argued that the federal Constitution doesn't allow race to be considered in drawing congressional maps and that the district didn't adhere to requirements that it be compact. Lawson's district stretched about 200 miles (320 kilometers) from downtown Jacksonville west to rural Gadsden County along the Georgia border.

Voting rights groups had argued the new map was unconstitutional because it dismantled a district where Black citizens made up nearly half the registered voters.

The appeals court agreed with DeSantis that a district can't be drawn to connect two Black communities that otherwise have no connection.

“Without common interests and a shared history and socioeconomic experience, it is not a community that can give rise to a cognizable right protected by” the state constitution, the court wrote. “In other words, it is the community that must have the power, not a district manufactured for the sole purpose of creating voting power.”

A separate lawsuit challenging the congressional maps is being heard in federal court.

The resulting map helped Republicans earn a majority in the House and left Black voters in north Florida with only white representation in Washington for an area that stretches about 360 miles (579 kilometers) from the Alabama border to the Atlantic Ocean and south from the Georgia border to Orlando in central Florida.

The Florida redistricting case is one of several across the nation that challenge Republican drawn maps as the GOP tries to keep their slim House majority.