A lower court judge in Florida announced his intent on Wednesday to block a congressional map championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
Judge Layne Smith, whom DeSantis appointed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Florida, said a portion of the map was likely unconstitutional and wrongly diminished the voting rights of black voters in the Sunshine State, dealing a blow to Republicans' redistricting lead.
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"I am finding that the enacted map is unconstitutional under the Fair Districts Amendment ... because it diminishes African Americans' ability to elect the representatives of their choice," Smith said, per the Associated Press.
Smith could issue a preliminary injunction on the map and call for revised lines in northern Florida districts to be drawn as soon as Thursday. But, he said the motion would likely be appealed by the state.
During a hearing on Wednesday, Smith drew attention to the state's 5th Congressional District seat, which is held by Rep. Al Lawson (D-FL) and has a plurality of black voters. He said the district had historical ties to black communities and claimed the map's changes to the district violated the Fair Districts Amendment, CNN reported.
The Fair Districts Amendment, cited by the judge and several lawsuits against the map, prohibits the state from drawing maps "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party" and from "denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities" to vote.
The state legislature sent DeSantis a map in March that he vetoed because it left the 5th Congressional District, which he described as racially gerrymandered, essentially unchanged. The governor's veto forced the legislature to send him a new map that broke up the district, as DeSantis requested. He signed the map into effect last month. Smith suggested the maps that DeSantis vetoed could be a template for maps used in the 2022 election.
Florida's primary election is currently slated for Aug. 23. Several lawsuits had been quickly filed by civil rights groups against DeSantis over the map.
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The map DeSantis championed was projected to bolster Republicans' 16-11 congressional advantage to 20-8. The state gained a seat during the most recent census. Under the map, Republicans will likely control 71% of the congressional seats after the midterm elections in a state former President Donald Trump won by about 51%. It was one of Republicans' top redistricting gains in the 2022 cycle. If Smith's planned order remains in effect, it could cost Republicans one congressional seat they expected to pick up.
Last month, Democrats lost their crown jewel of the redistricting cycle when a New York judge nixed a favorable map that would have netted Democrats three seats and cost Republicans four seats. Prior to the Florida ruling, Republicans were expected to earn roughly 3 to 4 congressional seats nationally due to redistricting.