By Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – A Florida appeals court on Friday upheld the state’s congressional map backed by Governor Ron DeSantis that a lower court had ruled violated the state constitution by diminishing some Black residents’ voting power.
A state judge in September ruled that the map redrawn in 2020 illegally shredded the 5th Congressional District, which had been a strongly Black district in north Florida.
The new map resulted in the incumbent, Al Lawson, a Black Democrat, losing re-election last year by nearly 20 percentage points to Representative Neal Dunn, a white Republican, which helped the Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives.
But Florida’s First District Court of Appeals said in its ruling that the lower court’s decision to order the Florida legislature to redraw the map was based on a misinterpretation of the state constitution. It said that the previous map for the 5th District had connected largely Black communities between Tallahassee and Jacksonville that were not cohesive.
The lower court ruling stated that the map “results in the diminishment of Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in violation of the Florida Constitution.”
But the appeals court said in its ruling that the lower court ruling “fails because it converts a race-based prohibition into a race-based requirement.”
It added: “Treating citizens as individuals without regard for race is the only way to ensure full and equal participation in the political process.”
A lawsuit against the redrawn Congressional map is still pending in federal court.
The litigation is among several redistricting cases across the U.S. that could help determine which party takes control of the House in next year’s congressional elections.
Following the expulsion of Republican George Santos from the House on Friday, the Republican’s majority was reduced to 221-213.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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