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Fla. Gov. DeSantis' redistricting plan is being challenged in federal court

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is in California, where he is expected to take part in another Republican presidential debate tomorrow. But back home in Florida today, his efforts to shape his state's congressional districts are being challenged in a federal lawsuit. DeSantis surprised Republican lawmakers last year by insisting on a map that eliminated a voting district in North Florida with a sizable Black population. His maps have been challenged in court, and one of those cases begins today in Tallahassee. NPR's Greg Allen is with us now to tell us more about it. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: All right, so dig into this case for us. What's it about?

ALLEN: Well, you know, as you know, once every decade after there's a census, states have to redraw the maps of their congressional districts to reflect the changes in population. In Florida, the maps here are drawn by the legislature. But last year, Governor DeSantis did something that no governor here had ever done before. He took charge of the congressional redistricting process. He vetoed the legislature's maps and essentially forced them to approve his map. DeSantis's map eliminated a congressional district that for decades - and with court approval - was drawn to preserve the ability of Black voters to elect a representative of their choice. The lawsuit says DeSantis's map violates constitutional guarantees that Black Floridians have had that their votes won't be abridged or denied on account of their race.

MARTIN: And as you were telling us, it was a surprise that DeSantis stepped in and took over a process usually carried out by the legislature, and, oh, by the way, a Republican-dominated legislature at that. So why did he do it?

ALLEN: Well, you know, from the beginning, DeSantis has said that he believed the North Florida congressional district was unconstitutional because it was drawn taking race into account. Now, that flips the argument on its head. Voting rights groups say that you have to protect the ability of Black voters to elect a representative of their choice. But DeSantis said no, the Constitution says you can't take race into account at all. And that's at odds with decades of legal rulings in this country that have protected the rights of Black voters. Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center, says he thinks with this map, DeSantis was taking a political gamble.

MICHAEL LI: I think that when Governor DeSantis pushed for the radical redrawing of the district, he was making a bet that a much more conservative U.S. Supreme Court would be open to the idea that you really needed to be more race-blind in drawing maps.

ALLEN: You know, but so far, Li says, that doesn't seem to be the case. In another redistricting case in Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court has come down on the side of voting rights groups. And the High Court has said that Alabama must draw a map that adds a second congressional district that gives Black voters a chance to elect a representative of their choice.

MARTIN: You know, a state judge in Florida recently ruled that Desantis's congressional map is unconstitutional and must be redrawn. So what's the status of that case?

ALLEN: Right. Well, in some ways, Florida's constitution has even stronger protections for Black voters than the U.S. Constitution. The state constitution says congressional districts can't be drawn in a way that diminishes the ability of Black voters to choose a representative. The judge said it's clear that DeSantis's map does that, and now it has to be redrawn. DeSantis's administration is appealing that decision, is hoping to get a different ruling when the case eventually reaches Florida's Supreme Court. That is going to take many months.

MARTIN: And as you've just reminded us, it isn't just Florida. There are a number of states where redistricting battles are going on in the courts. How might this affect next year's election?

ALLEN: Well, Governor DeSantis has spoken with pride about the impact his map had in the last election. In Florida, Republicans picked up four additional seats in 2022, something that was clearly done that happened in part due to this map. So right now, Florida is one of several states where racial discrimination or gerrymandering is alleged and where the maps are tied up in court. In some of these states, including Florida, Republicans representing - lawyers representing Republican lawmakers seem to be pursuing delaying tactics. Their aim seems to be to run out the clock, basically to push off any final action on new maps until it's too late to affect the 2024 election.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Greg Allen in Miami helping us follow these complicated cases, and there are many of them. Greg, thank you so much.

ALLEN: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.