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Bombs and tanks aren’t necessary to destroy democracy. Laws and legal briefs in the wrong hands can do it bloodlessly.
The Florida Legislature has surrendered to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ arrogant demand to dismantle one of four congressional districts that has elected Black Democrats. The newly-contorted map the House approved Friday would isolate more than 100,000 Black residents of Tallahassee’s Leon County and adjacent, majority-Black Gadsden in a district guaranteed to elect a white Republican. Statewide, the DeSantis map reduces protected Black seats from four to two.
“We’re fully aware that the governor has the veto pen,” rationalized Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, the redistricting committee chairman.
DeSantis still isn’t satisfied. He threatened Friday to veto even what the House was preparing to give him. He did not say why, but it’s obvious that he wants even fewer Florida Democrats in Washington, where there are now 11, compared to 16 Republicans. Florida will gain a 28th seat in Congress.
“I will veto the congressional reapportionment plan currently being debated by the House. DOA,” DeSantis tweeted Friday.
That would surely necessitate a special session. So be it. With one week left in the regular session, his 11th-hour stink bomb ought to offend all legislators in both parties.
DeSantis’s predecessors refrained from partisan meddling in redistricting. He has played the Legislature like an accordion all through the session, but this much ought to have been too much even for the Republicans. The Senate should have rejected the House plan and insisted on the better one it passed.
The House map, which shrinks Rep. Al Lawson’s widespread District 5 in North Florida to an enclave at Jacksonville, comes with an unprecedented wrinkle. Should a court rule that it violates the Florida Constitution — which it does — the bill provides for essentially restoring District 5 all the way to Leon and Gadsden. It also allows objectors only 30 days to file suit in it, rather than the standard four years, which is likely unconstitutional also.
In Washington, the Republican Party is asking the Supreme Court to rule in effect that state courts and even state constitutions are powerless to overturn a legislature’s congressional map. Although the specific case concerns North Carolina, the precedent would apply nationwide.
The case could nullify one of Florida’s two Fair Districts initiatives, approved by some 62% of voters in 2010, that outlawed partisan gerrymandering and greatly improved how the Legislature redraws districts every 10 years and ensured judicial oversight. The Legislature was sufficiently mindful of them this year that it redrew all 160 legislative districts to which the usual objectors did not object, and the Florida Supreme Court upheld those maps Thursday.
Florida’s high court would be powerless to review the present congressional redistricting legislation if Republicans win the North Carolina case.
The right to vote means nothing if the vote won’t matter. In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in another North Carolina case that although its General Assembly had boastfully created a pro-Republican gerrymander, deliberately diluting Democratic votes, there was nothing the federal courts could or should do about such a “political question.”
That was more damaging to democracy than even the 2010 Citizens United decision that created corporate personhood and eviscerated campaign finance reform.
However, Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion left state courts explicitly free to apply their own constitutions. He took particular note of Florida’s and added, “There is no ‘Fair Districts Amendment’ to the Federal Constitution. (There needs to be one, of course.)
The new North Carolina case would erase that concession.
Republicans are asking for an injunction to block a map created by a state court after the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned the General Assembly’s first attempt.
The U.S. Constitution also guarantees equal protection of the laws, which the U.S. Supreme Court finally invoked in 1962 to require all voting districts to be substantially equal in population. That decision made it possible to reform Florida’s notoriously rural-ruled Legislature that for decades denied equal representation to South Florida and other urban areas.
In Tallahassee, the Legislature should reject DeSantis’ partisan meddling. In Washington, the Supreme Court should send Republicans home empty-handed.
The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson. Editorials are the opinion of the Board and written by one of its members or a designee. To contact us, email at [email protected].