Looking ahead to the court battle on DeSantis Congressional Map – North Carolina battles tell us a lot about how this might go

Governor DeSantis arbitrarily-drawn Congressional Map which was rubber-stamped by the legislature has potentially many Voting Rights Act-related problems as articulated earlier this week by Neil Blackmon.

But it must be stated, the Governor has some decent defenses under Federal law (though my theory is those are potentially undone by the way CD-14 was drawn, but that’s up for interpretation). DeSantis will no doubt point to the recent Cooper v. Harris (2017) case which The Supreme Court held that North Carolina had unlawfully used race to draw congressional districts in violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. In this case, the state’s defense of drawing it’s then 1st and 12th districts to comply with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act were rejected.

However, a part of the story often forgotten, is what happened when North Carolina attempted to fix their map to comply with the court ruling. I want to preface this discussion that it is largely about partisanship in district drawing, with the question of racial gerrymanders and the Voting Rights Act being separate.

While the redrawn North Carolina map was found to be legal (sort of) by the US Supreme Court in the landmark Ruffo v Common Cause case, a state court found it an unlawful partisan gerrymander and it was struck down. (It’s at this point I should note in North Carolina, the Governor has no role in redistricting and while NC has had Democratic Governors for 26 of the last 30 years, since the legislature flipped to GOP in 2010, the state has had one reapportionment controversy after another.)

Ultimately this benefited Democrats more than having two African-American districts, with Democrats packed into them did. In fact, the only real gains the Democrats made in the US House nationally in 2020 were down to a redrawn North Carolina map.

As an aside, again this year the GOP attempted a partisan gerrymander which was thrown out in court, the NC legislature tried redrawing the maps, but again ran afoul of the law, so the maps being used in 2022 were eventually being drawn by a court. It’s important to note in this case, the US Supreme Court opted NOT to overturn the state court ruling, by a 6-3 vote, with Justices Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett siding with the liberals. However, Justice Alito wrote a scathing dissent that has some of the same arguments used by DeSantis publicly in it.

So what does the Florida Constitution say about this? It’s pretty clear based on the Fair Districts Amendment which became binding in 2010.

Governor DeSantis’ map could be in real trouble, if it is determined partisanship was the key criteria used to draw district lines which is an unavoidable conclusion in many parts of the map, most obviously with CD-14 which DeSantis has used to pack Tampa Bay-area Democrats.

Below is the Florida Constitution’s actual language:

What we found in the 2022 North Carolina case (and an earlier case in Alabama which favored the Republicans and arguably undermined African-American voting rights) is that, the US Supreme Court in an election year is reluctant to overturn state court rulings. So if DeSantis gets an unfavorable ruling in state court, he might lose at the federal level regardless. Similarly, if he somehow prevails in state court, it’s very likely the US Supreme Court won’t intervene directly. However, this I would note is on the specific question of partisan gerrymandering.

On the point of dilution of African-American voting rights and the federal court case, the analysis of Neil Blackmon earlier this week on this site, remains the guide. But for Governor DeSantis he may have even bigger problems at the state level in his effort to turn Florida’s delegation which was just 14-13 GOP in 2020 to a 20-8 spread in 2023.

Additionally, as stated above, North Carolina’s almost constant reapportionment fights since 2012 might give us an insight as to what happens here in Florida.

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