DeSantis’ administration asks court to reject redistricting case

Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration this week asked a federal court to toss out a challenge to a new congressional redistricting plan — or to at least put the lawsuit on hold while other redistricting cases are resolved.

The lawyers for DeSantis and Secretary of State Cord Byrd filed a 29-page document Wednesday primarily contending that the constitutional challenge should be dismissed. They disputed equal-protection arguments by voting-rights groups and other plaintiffs, who say the plan intentionally discriminates against Black voters.

"Plaintiffs argue that a race-neutral redistricting plan is unconstitutional and therefore demands a race-based redraw," the state’s lawyers wrote. "That’s not how the Equal Protection Clause (of the U.S. Constitution) works."

The plan, which DeSantis pushed through the Legislature during an April special session, reduced the number of districts likely to elect Black U.S. House members and is expected to increase the number of Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.

The plaintiffs, including Common Cause Florida, FairDistricts Now and the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, argued in a revised version of the lawsuit filed last month that the plan was "adopted, at least in part, for the purpose of disadvantaging Black voters."

"It blatantly flouts the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment’s prohibition on laws enacted with an invidious purpose, i.e., intentional discrimination on the basis of race," the lawsuit said. "It likewise blatantly ignores the Fifteenth Amendment’s promise that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race."

The case focuses heavily on changes to Congressional District 5 in North Florida and Congressional District 10 in the Orlando area. The districts in recent years have elected Black Democrats Al Lawson and Val Demings.

District 5, for example, has sprawled in the past from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee, but the new plan concentrates it in the Jacksonville area. DeSantis argued that keeping the past configuration would involve unconstitutional gerrymandering.

In addition to disputing the plaintiffs’ constitutional arguments, the DeSantis administration lawyers also said the case should be tossed out for other reasons, including that the plaintiffs lack legal standing.

The federal-court fight continues to play out amid a separate challenge to the redistricting plan in state court. Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith last month issued a temporary injunction against the plan, but the 1st District Court of Appeal issued a stay of Smith’s ruling.

The temporary-injunction issue remains pending at the Tallahassee-based appeals court, making it almost certain that the DeSantis-backed redistricting plan will be used in this year’s elections. The candidate-qualifying period for the elections will be held next week.

In the filing Wednesday, the DeSantis administration lawyers argued that the federal case should be put on hold if it is not dismissed. That request stemmed, in part, from the pending state-court case.

"Plaintiffs’ amended complaint contains no allegations to justify ongoing federal oversight in this case while Florida state courts adjudicate a similar case. … Proceeding, while the state is engaged in the ongoing state litigation and where the state litigation could very well resolve the claims here, creates unwarranted federal interference with the state’s process," the filing said.

The state’s lawyers also pointed to an Alabama redistricting case that is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Rather than press ahead with federal litigation here, principles of judicial economy and efficiency favor awaiting the decision in (the Alabama case)," they argued.