Rejecting arguments made by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration, a Leon County circuit judge Thursday issued a 21-page temporary injunction that would redraw part of a newly passed congressional redistricting plan.
Judge Layne Smith issued the written ruling after saying Wednesday that he would approve an injunction sought by voting-rights groups.
The DeSantis administration is expected to quickly take the case to the 1st District Court of Appeal. Such an appeal would place a stay on Smith’s ruling.
The decision centered on North Florida’s Congressional District 5, which has stretched in recent years from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee.
The district was designed to help elect Black representatives and is held by Congressman Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.
But under a redistricting plan that DeSantis pushed through the Republican-controlled Legislature last month, the district was dramatically overhauled and condensed in the Jacksonville area.
Voting-rights groups argued the redrawn district violated a 2010 state constitutional amendment — known as the Fair Districts amendment — that bars diminishing the ability of minority voters to “elect representatives of their choice.”
The DeSantis administration, however, argued that continuing with the sprawling east-west configuration of the district would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and would involve racial gerrymandering.
But Smith refuted the arguments, in part writing that complying with the Fair Districts amendment is a “compelling state interest.”
Also, he said addressing a history of voting-related racial discrimination in the region “constitutes a compelling state interest” for the east-west design of District 5.
Smith ordered the use of a map proposed by an expert witness for the plaintiffs.
That map would keep the east-west configuration. Smith also rejected arguments by the DeSantis administration that it was too late to change the map before this year’s elections.
“We are not days or weeks from an election,” Smith wrote. “Florida’s primary, one of the latest in the nation, is set for August 23, nearly four months away.”