In recent memory, no elected official in Florida has used power as effectively as Ron DeSantis. Similarly, no elected leader in the country has played culture warrior as well as DeSantis. But Tuesday, he crossed into dangerous territory on both fronts, using his power to veto a Congressional Map, 90% of GOPers in the legislature had voted for and citing of all things the 14th Amendment as justification.
“The Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prohibit state legislatures from using race as the ‘predominant factor motivating [their] decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district’ unless they can prove that their race-based sorting of voters serves a ‘compelling interest’ and is ‘narrowly tailored to that end,’”Governor DeSantis veto message drafted by Counsel Ryan Newman
The Governor has claimed the Congressional Maps violate the 14th Amendment by using race as a criteria to draw districts, even though in this view, he’s ignoring decades of court decisions to the contrary, including a few this very year. In fairness, it has been a competing interest that both the 14th Amendment and Voting Rights Act are figured into court decisions on district lines.
This does create some gray area, and potential room for interpretation. However, more often than not courts, even those packed by GOPers, have interpreted this DIFFERENTLY than he does, as the Voting Rights Act (VRA) prohibits the dilution of voting strength of minority groups, and a general assumption that if African-Americans represent 15% of Florida voters, the idea that they’d likely only serious voting power in two urban South Florida districts (meaning two African-American representatives out of a total of 28 from Florida) is contrary to the VRA.
So, actual court rulings and established practice even in GOP-dominated states tend to refute DeSantis’ position but as usual the Governor knows best, and as we have seen in the past does not respect court rulings that conflict with his own personal interpretation of law.
For those who don’t know, the 14th Amendment was often used to justify judicial or government overreach before finally being properly applied in the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v Board of Education. In Pleasy v Ferguson (1896) , Gitlow v New York (1925) and Lochner v New York (1905), the 14th Amendment was used as justification for discrimination even though it’s clear intent was to create an equal class of citizens.
Since the Brown decision, the 14th Amendment has been cited, more often than not in a manner to give broad protection to citizens, particularly minorities. With his veto, DeSantis has jumped into new dangerous ground, using the 14th Amendment to justify diluting the voting strength of a minority population by eliminating minority-opportunity districts. If he is successful, look for this to be the newest frontier for disenfranchisement and dilution of African-American political power, all over the country.
DeSantis political motivation to do this is clear, but the precedent he is setting could undermine representative democracy if it’s not beat back.