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Judge rules DeSantis’ redistricting plan unconstitutional

A Florida judge ruled that the congressional map is unconstitutional as it breaks up a district where Black voters can choose their representatives.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Wednesday is the day activists promised would arrive if Gov. Ron DeSantis's Congressional redistricting map became law, which it did.

Opponents challenging the map were in court Wednesday morning, asking a judge to put a hold on the new districts for now.

The judge ruled that the congressional map is unconstitutional as it breaks up a district where Black voters can choose their representatives, according to the Associated Press.  

State Representative Angie Nixon tweeted that the ruling "affirms that every Floridian, no matter our background or where we’re from, deserves to be the hero of our own story by using our vote to elect those who share our values and protect our interests". 

The Duval County Democratic Party also issued a statement on the significant ruling. 

The Party went on to say that they are calling for "swift review by the Florida Supreme Court to ensure the voting rights of Congressional District 5’s residents are not irreparably harmed," as the case continues to move through the appellate process.

Congressman Al Lawson, who's district would be impacted, issued the following statement in response to the Wednesday ruling. 

“I am pleased by the 2nd Judicial Circuit Court order to overrule DeSantis’ unconstitutional congressional map. The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice. DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions. It is critical to maintain congressional district five so minority voters have a voice at the ballot box in November. I am optimistic that future courts will also do what is right.”

This lawsuit was filed on the same day the governor signed the new map of Congressional districts into law. Plaintiffs held a press call Tuesday to discuss the preliminary injunction hearing set to take place the next day.

The lawsuit was seeking to halt implementation of the governor's map, which dissolves Florida's 5th Congressional District, while the case goes through the court system. The lawsuit alleged the map violates Florida’s Constitution and the voter-approved Fair Districts Amendment by reducing the strength of Black voters.

"With this lawsuit, Florida Rising and our partners seek to ensure that no person is above the law," said Moné Holder with Florida Rising on the press call.

The map erases the seat currently held by a Black democrat, Al Lawson, and replaces it with two districts expected to favor white republicans.

"We're not in a world where we're trying to create a map from scratch," said Olivia Mendoza with the National Redistricting Foundation during the press call. "There are many examples of maps, we believe that are constitutional maps, that were submitted and were even voted on, approved through the legislative process."

In a filing Monday, defendants argued the old map was racially gerrymandered. Governor Ron DeSantis is not listed as a defendant in this case; however, he's presented his map as a race-neutral alternative.

"We're confident that that will hold up in court," he said during a press conference in Jacksonville last month. "I am not confident the other way would have, would have held up in court."

First Coast News reached out to each defendant for comment and either did not get a response or was told they won't comment on pending litigation. 

In a motion filed as a response to the lawsuit by the attorney general, which was sent to First Coast News by the attorney general's office after requesting comment, the attorney general claims they are an improper defendant.

Other defendants include Florida's secretary of state, the president of the Florida Senate and the speaker of the Florida House, the chairs of the House and Senate Redistricting Committees, and the Florida Senate and Florida House as a whole.

Mendoza says she thinks it's feasible to ask the court for a ruling by the end of this month.