Specifically, Smith said DeSantis knocked out the 5th congressional district currently held by Rep. Al Lawson (D-Florida), a black Democrat.
Florida’s redistricting process has been dragging on for months. The legislature initially approved the congressional maps, but the governor vetoed them. The Legislature then held a special session in April to approve DeSantis-backed maps that give Republicans a 20-8 seat advantage in Congress.
But voting and civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit to block those from moving forward, arguing that they violate the state’s provisions on fair districts — amendments to the Florida Constitution that prohibit gerrymandering.
DeSantis’ map nullifies Lawson’s seat, which spans 200 miles from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, and in the process takes 360,000 black voters in that district and distributes them into four separate congressional seats.
Smith, who was named to the circuit bench by DeSantis, said redistributing black voters dilutes their ability to elect a candidate of their choice.
In a petition filed Friday, voting and civil rights groups challenging DeSantis’ cards asked Smith to allow his original decision blocking the plan to take effect immediately rather than temporarily overturning that decision until that the court appeals are over.
They argued that time is of the essence as the lengthy appeals process will almost certainly drag on beyond the date when they can fix the redistricting mess before the 2022 midterm elections. Florida begin June 13, with the primary scheduled for August 23.
“Allowing the automatic suspension to remain in place would almost certainly cause irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and countless other voters in Florida, who could be forced – simply because of the delay resulting from the suspension – to vote under an unconstitutional card, which works to diminish the political power of black voters in North Florida in particular,” reads the motion, drafted by attorney Frederick S. Wermuth.
“A recovery plan likely needs to be put in place in the coming weeks to ensure that the 2022 congressional elections proceed according to a legal constituency plan,” the motion continues.
In a 21-page order released Thursday evening, a day after Smith announced his order from the bench, he said a map drawn by a Harvard expert who testified for the groups is “the best recourse option available to Florida administration and voters”.