Thursday, May 12, 2022

Update on DeSantis' 2022 Gerrymander of Doom

I mentioned a month ago my rage at Florida Governor DeSantis' heavy-handed gerrymandering effort to skew the Congressional districts so far Republican as to offend common sense. Well, the court matter is moving relatively quickly because a couple days ago a district court smashed DeSantis' map with a sledgehammer (via Mary Ellen Klas at the Tampa Bay Times (paywall)): 

In a swift reversal of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bold political gambit, a Leon County Circuit Court judge on Wednesday threw out the new congressional map drawn by the governor and approved by legislators, ordering a new map drawn by a Harvard expert to be put in place.

Judge Layne Smith, in a ruling from the bench after a four-hour hearing, found DeSantis’ map unconstitutional under the Fair Districts Amendment of the Florida Constitution “because it diminishes the African Americans’ ability to select the representative of their choice.”

Smith, who served in the administration of former Gov. Rick Scott, was appointed to the county bench by Scott and later appointed to the circuit court by DeSantis. He said it would be up to lawmakers to decide if they want to enact a new map when the Legislature convenes for a week-long special session on May 23.

But in an effort to get precincts set for candidates to qualify, he ordered a map drawn by the plaintiffs’ expert, Harvard professor Stephen Ansolabehere, to replace the one approved by the governor and Legislature...

It should be interesting to note that Smith's place on the bench is due to Republican governors putting him there, and he still noted how racist DeSantis' gerrymandering was. It's also helpful to note that Smith is well aware of the urgency of the matter, bringing in a third party serving the court to make a replacement map should the Florida Legislature refuse to act. Considering the Lege DID have a Congressional map - only for DeSantis to veto it and force his own obviously broken one to replace it - it would be interesting to see if the House and Senate re-pass their original bill and dare DeSantis to veto again.

Back to the report:

Voting rights groups, such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, and individual plaintiffs filed the lawsuit April 22 and asked the court for a temporary injunction and to order the Legislature to redraw a constitutional map.

The plaintiffs argued that the district drawn by the governor’s staff, and approved by the Legislature along mostly partisan lines, violated the provisions that prohibit the state from diminishing the ability of minority voters from electing candidates of their choice.

Smith ultimately agreed.

“I do find persuasive the arguments that were made about the diminishment of African American votes,” Smith said. “...The district that has since been enacted and signed into law by the governor does disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts.”

He acknowledged that the governor’s proposed Congressional District 5 may be a more compact district but said it is not in line with the minority voting rights protections in the state Constitution...

However, an attorney for the state, Mohammad Omar Jazil, argued that recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court have restricted the use of race as a guiding factor in redistricting cases.

He said that adhering to the Fair District provisions would not be considered a compelling interest as required in the federal Constitution.

“No court has ever held that complying with a state constitution is a compelling interest,” Jazil said.

However, the plaintiffs countered that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 2019 case, Rucho v. Common Cause, that “provisions in state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply...”

The Fair District Amendments DO clarify that the districts cannot be drawn to diminish minority voter representation, which is likely the point on which Smith pinned his decision. It should be noted that DeSantis' map also violated another provision in the Amendments saying the districts should not skew favorably to one party over another: Nobody can tell me a "20-Republican to 8-Democrat" map in a state where Republicans and Democrats are near-equal in registered voters is NOT skewed.

As Klas notes in the Times article DeSantis is already planning to appeal, and Judge Smith is expecting that even as he finalizes his court order. By the looks of it, the next stop is the state appellate court and then the Florida Supreme Court (and if DeSantis is really pissed about it, the U.S. Supreme Court).

There is no guarantee that Smith's ruling will stand: The upper state courts are just as stacked with Republican appointees and Federalist Society conservatives, to where they can rule for DeSantis by ignoring or even mis-reading the state constitution and its amendments.

But this is a good sign, that even a Republican-picked judge like Smith said Aw Hell Naw to DeSantis' openly partisan and racist attempt to pack the U.S. Congress with gerrymandered Far Right wingnuts.

Here's hoping THIS Gerrymander dies a quick death. And DeSantis has to choke on eating its remains.

P.S. I hope that Harvard guy Ansolabehere - wait, seriously, Ansola Be Here? - draws up a new Congressional district that includes one district that's No Party Affiliate plurality, just so we can see how fcked up partisan gerrymandering really is.

P.S.S. I shouldn't mock other people's last name. I suffer from that fate myself. Did I ever tell you how one year my high school yearbook added an "h" to the end of my last name? They made me Scottish! The school cafeteria started serving me haggis! I'm with Mike Myers on this: All Scottish cuisine IS based on a dare.

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