Final arguments ended Tuesday, in a federal trial involving the administration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, alleging that the 2024 Republican presidential contender deliberately redrew a North Florida district to intentionally eliminate a Black-majority district.
“The evidence will show Governor DeSantis went into the 2022 congressional redistricting with one overriding goal: eliminating Florida’s Fifth Congressional District, a district where Black voters could elect their candidate of choice,” the plaintiff’s pre-trial brief reads in the introduction.
State attorneys and lawyers representing the plaintiffs, the NAACP, Common Cause, Fair Districts Now and others, argued over the constitutionality of the redrawn districts in front of a three judge panel, the majority of which is Republican appointed.
The North Florida district seat had been previously held by Black state representatives, most recently, Florida A&M alum Al Lawson. It stretched from Duval to Gadsden counties, including a large part of Leon County.
DeSantis formed new district boundaries that dispersed thousands of Black voters into four North Florida districts, diminishing their political influence. All four congressional seats were secured by Republicans.
“He did not want a Black performing district in North Florida,” an attorney for the plaintiffs, Gregory Diskant, said.
“It’s amazing that people would fight hard against representation, and that’s what everybody should really want,” Lawson told reporters. “You would hope that a governor would be the governor for all of the people.”
DeSantis’ attorney, Mohammad Jazil, argued the governor’s intentions were not racially discriminatory, but actually meant to eliminate what he deemed to be a conflict between the state’s Fair District amendments and federal equal protection standards.
Fair Districts uphold the weight of minority voters’ influence in regard to electing candidates.
“I think we’ve established that there is no intentional discrimination,” Jazil said during arguments.
The panel of judges expressed their intention to come to a decision before the end of the year, giving legislators enough time to redraw the district during the 2024 legislative session if need be.
If the court’s decision is appealed by plaintiffs or defendant, it would go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a prior lawsuit in state court, DeSantis conceded and acknowledged that another redrawn electoral map violated the state Constitution by diminishing the voting power of Black citizens. An appellate court has now set a date of Oct. 31 for oral arguments in the state’s appeal of that ruling.