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A former North Florida congressional district could return if a judge rules in plaintiffs favor

Florida Supreme Court

The change eliminated two of four Black voting districts, including one in North Florida that stretched from the Big Bend to Jacksonville.

The state and plaintiffs in a redistricting lawsuit are heading to a Tallahassee courtroom next week. The hearing comes after the state admitted in filings that Black voters no longer have the ability to elect a candidate of their choice in a key, North Florida congressional district.

Gov. Ron DeSantis forced through his preferred congressional map and the state’s GOP-led legislature reluctantly agreed to it last year. That came after the governor vetoed the legislature's original proposed map, which complied with the state's Fair District's amendment which attempted to limit gerrymandering.

DeSantis touted his maps as race-neutral. The change eliminated two of four Black voting districts, including one in North Florida that stretched from the Big Bend to Jacksonville.

Now, that district is at the center of the lawsuit set to be heard next week. Jasmine Burney-Clark of the voting rights group Equal Ground describes the victory as a choice: gain back one congressional seat, or permanently lose both.

“We’re taking the good with the bad and acknowledging that we’ve got one district we can fight for, and another district we could fight for in the future if the opportunity presents itself.”

As part of the agreement with the state, Equal Ground and the rest of the plaintiffs agreed to drop their challenge to that second district, which was previously in the Orlando area. Now a district judge will hear arguments over whether the redrawn North Florida District is unconstitutional according to the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.

That clause states "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

If the judge agrees with the plaintiffs, a new map for the contested district can be drawn. Former Congressman Al Lawson previously represented the area under its old configuration, Congressional District 5. Lawson says if the map is redrawn, he'd consider running for it but "I would just be more satisfied if people of color had the opportunity to vote for someone other than a Republican, a person of their choice."

If the judge sides with the state, the plaintiffs can appeal to the Florida Supreme Court. A separate challenge to the maps remains active in federal court.

Copyright 2023 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.