Soon to a 2024 Republican presidential primary near you: Gov. Ron DeSantis went up against moderate Republicans looking to placate liberal Democrats, and he won.
Finally on Thursday the Florida Legislature gave in to DeSantis’ wishes and passed one of its proposed congressional cards — the last major piece in the national redistribution puzzle. And befitting of DeSantis’ national reputation (and ambition), it’s a dream ticket for partisan Republicans who are single-handedly bringing four new Republicans into the US House of Representatives. But while DeSanti’s uncompromising insistence on maximizing Republican power might provide him with a nice story to tell when he’s running for president, it could also be the card’s undoing in court.
Florida’s upcoming convention card (going into effect once DeSantis signs it) creates 18 seats with a FiveThirtyEight Partisan seat of R+5 or red and only eight seats with a Partisan seat of D+5 or blue. (The remaining two seats fall into the “strongly contested” category between R+5 and D+5.)
This map will shake up Florida’s congressional delegation significantly, as it virtually guarantees Democrats will lose three of their Florida House seats: 7th District goes from a D+5 partisan bias to R+14, 13th District now has a partisan bias of R+12, and Rep. Al Lawson’s district of North Florida will be completely transformed into a solid Republican seat. Additionally, the new congressional seat Florida won from the 2020 census — numbered 18 — is dark red under this map, for a total GOP gain of four seats.
This is about as big of a Republican bias as Florida’s congressional map could have — and damn close to the country’s most outrageously partisan map. The card has one efficiency gap of R+20, meaning Republicans would likely win 20 percent more seats under that map than under a hypothetical perfectly fair map. Since Florida has 28 congressional seats, that means a Republican bias of 5.7 seats – right on the heels of Texas for the “honor” of having the largest bias of any state.
But it didn’t have to be that way. Republicans in the Legislature initially passed maps that were significantly less biased. The State House passed a card in March that would have created 15 seats that were R+5 or redder and had an R+13 efficiency gap (although this would still count as gerrymandered, according to the efficiency gap creators). And in January the state senate passed a map close enough to fairness (an efficiency gap of only R+6) that even most Democratic senators voted in favor of it.
But DeSantis promised to veto both, who insisted that just one of his overly aggressive proposals would suffice. His problem, publicly at least, was that the Legislature’s proposals preserved (in some form) Lawson’s blue district, his old iteration stretched from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to attract enough black voters Give them a voice in Congress. Ironic, claimed DeSantis this violates the 14th Amendment prioritize race as the primary consideration when drawing the district versus other factors such as compactness.
First, Republican lawmakers brushed aside DeSantis’ objections. They argued that the “fair districtsAmending the Florida Constitution — a redistricting reform voters passed in 2010 — required the preservation of a predominantly black seat in North Florida. And, already annoyed on DeSantis’ strong redistribution tactics and other topics, you firmly pushed back against his cards and his legal arguments.
However, after DeSantis issued his veto threat, they began doing so Make concessions to the governor’s position. For example, the House of Representatives map made Lawson’s district much more compact by focusing it solely on Jacksonville — but it still had a large enough black population to keep it Democratic. So DeSantis still claimed it was a racial Gerrymander and vetoed it.
For many of the Governor’s CriticThis was proof that DeSantis’ real goal wasn’t an acceptable convention ticket, but one polish his image as a partisan warrior before him possible presidential election 2024. His refusal to allocate districts to the opposing party will certainly appeal to Republican primary voters, who increasingly find Democratic power unacceptable. And to a GOP base cheering on former President Donald Trump’s crusades against “RINOs” (Republicans in name only), DeSantis can make the compelling argument that he has stood up to members of his own party who have not been cutthroat enough .
This argument is now even stronger. After months of being stared down at DeSantis, the legislative leaders last week finally blinked, and said they would not propose any more cards and would vote on any proposal DeSantis brought to them. It was a total political victory for the governor: not only did he defeat the legislature in its struggle of wills, but he also did not have to concede a single Republican district.
However, DeSantis’ political victory doesn’t necessarily mean his card will be used in the 2022 election. With Democrats virtually guaranteed to sue over the plan, a court will ultimately decide its fate. And there are a much of reasons to think that the card is illegal under Florida law.
Most obviously, Republican lawmakers were right when they argued that the Fair Districts Amendment required the preservation of a predominantly black district in North Florida. Even DeSantis’ top attorney did it accepted that the Fair Districts Amendment prohibits significantly reducing the non-white population of a predominantly non-white district (in legal parlance this is called “retrogression”). But the DeSantis map does just that. Under current limits, the voting-age population of Lawson’s district is 44 percent Black and 40 percent White. Under the DeSantis map, it’s 55 percent white and 30 percent black.
North Florida isn’t even the only place where DeSantis’ map is missing out on black voters. The map also divides Orlando’s black community between the 10th and 11th districts. It is questionable whether the current 10th District (represented by Democratic Rep. Val Demings) is protected by the Fair Districts Amendment, but its new configuration under the DeSantis plan may not vote for the candidate of Black voters’ choice. According to local Democratic adviser Matthew Isbell, whites are now a majority of voters in the local democratic elementary school.
Then, of course, there’s the extreme Republican bias of the map, which is also at odds with the Fair Districts change. (“No distribution plan or individual district may be drawn up with the intention of favoring or disfavoring any political party”, the change reads.) Perhaps the clearest example of the lines being drawn with partisan intent can be found in the Tampa Bay area, where there are currently two Democrat-held seats: the contested 13th on the west side of the bay and the blue 14th. on the east side. However, DeSantis’ plan calls for the 14th District to traverse Tampa Bay to consolidate Democratic voters on the east and west sides into one district, turning the 13th from a hard-fought seat to a Republican-leaning one.
Though they voted in favor of the plan this week, even some Republican lawmakers did privately to reporters that this configuration violates the Fair Districts Amendment. How do you know? Because the Florida Supreme Court has said so in the past. 2015 the court dejected Florida’s convention map at the time was special in part because the 14th Circuit crossed Tampa Bay.
There seems little doubt that Florida’s new convention card is illegal under state law. So shouldn’t it be a slam dunk that the courts will throw out? Not necessarily. The courts may agree with DeSantis’ position that the requirements of the Florida Constitution, specifically the protection of minority districts, are met itself unconstitutional under the 14th amendment. In fact, DeSantis’ implicit goal is to completely slam the Fair Districts change – and this card is his vehicle for doing so.
It is uncertain what the Florida Supreme Court will do here. For one thing, as recently as seven years ago, the court had no trouble enforcing the Fair Districts Amendment. On the other hand, four of the five judges who supported that ruling are now out of court — three of whom have been replaced by DeSantis appointees. But then again, earlier this year, the court declined DeSantis’ request for preemptive, advisory comment on whether Lawson’s district was legal, an action interpreted as a backlash for the governor.
If the card is knocked down, it would obviously be a blow to Republicans — and presumably to DeSantis more broadly. His refusal to back down from his uncompromising position could end up resulting in a much better hand for Democrats than the one he vetoed from the Legislature. But from a narrative standpoint, DeSantis will likely be fine: He can still tell the primary voters of 2024 that he fought the good fight and blame the bottom line on other, less uncompromising Republicans.
But if the court upholds the card, it would be a much more tangible blow to Florida Democrats and black voters, who would be significantly underrepresented in Congress. And if the court were to reject the Fair Districts Amendment in the process, it would leave these people with no obvious legal recourse. In short, the stakes are high in Tallahassee right now.