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DeSantis-appointed judge signals Florida’s congressional map is unconstitutional for diminishing Black representation


By Steve Contorno, CNN

A Florida circuit court judge signaled Wednesday that a new congressional map championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is likely unconstitutional, siding with Democrats and voting rights groups who said the map would illegally suppress Black voters in northern Florida.

Judge J. Layne Smith, a DeSantis appointee to the 2nd Circuit Court of Florida, said during a hearing that he intended to issue an order granting an injunction that would prevent the map from going into effect. Smith said the map violates the state constitution “because it diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice.”

The order could come as soon as Thursday. An appeal by the state is expected.

Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature pushed through the state’s new congressional boundaries along party lines in a contentious April special session. The approved map, put forward by DeSantis, controversially eliminated two districts represented by Black Democrats and would given Republicans an advantage in as many as 20 of 28 districts.

DeSantis contended that Florida’s 5th Congressional District, currently represented by Democrat Al Lawson, was unconstitutional because it stretched 150 miles to connect from Tallahassee to Jacksonville.

But Smith during the hearing said the district had historical roots in Black communities along the Florida-Georgia border once populated with plantations. He added that his hands were tied by the precedent set by the state Supreme Court, which last decade set the district boundaries after years of legal battles, and the state constitution, which says a reapportionment plan cannot diminish the ability of minority residents “to elect representatives of their choice.”

Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers approved a different map and a backup in case a court found the first one unconstitutional. However, DeSantis vetoed it in March and later called lawmakers back into a special session to approve new congressional boundaries. The map that was approved and signed into law was drawn by DeSantis’ office.

Smith suggested the maps DeSantis vetoed could serve as the basis for maps used in the 2022 election.

DeSantis appointed Smith to the circuit court in 2020. Smith previously served a county judge appointed in 2015 by then-Gov. Rick Scott, who, like DeSantis, is a Republican.

This headline and story have been updated.

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