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Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith said he would issue a formal order either Thursday or Friday to keep the maps from taking effect in November’s midterm election.
Smith said the order will likely replace the DeSantis map with one of two that the Legislature included in a bill and sent to DeSantis in March. The governor vetoed the bill and later called the legislature back into special session. The Republican-dominated House and Senate chose not to draw a new map, and instead passed the DeSantis map.
The challenge focuses on Florida’s 5th Congressional District, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. The district runs from Jacksonville west more than 200 miles to Gadsden County and nearly half of its population is Black. Lawson said he was “pleased” with the judge’s decision.
“The judge recognizes that this map is unlawful and diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect representatives of their choice,” Lawson said in a statement. “DeSantis is wrong for enacting this Republican-leaning map that is in clear violation of the U.S. and state constitutions.”
Lawson said it was critical to maintain the Congressional District 5 “so minority voters have a voice at the ballot box in November.”
Smith said that while the DeSantis map is more compact, the issue of allowing Black voters to choose their representatives is more important.
“The district that has since been enacted and signed into law by the governor does disperse 367,000 African American votes between four different districts,” Smith said in a video call with both sides. “The African American population is nowhere near a plurality or a majority.”
Smith said he will issue his order as soon as he can so the state can immediately appeal it. DeSantis’ office confirmed it will appeal.
“As Judge Smith implied, these complex constitutional matters of law were always going to be decided at the appellate level,” DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email to Fox News. “We will undoubtedly be appealing his ruling and are confident the constitutional map enacted by the Florida legislature and signed into law passes legal muster. We look forward to defending it.”
The governor’s office drew up a map it described as neutral on race and party affiliation, and which it said abided by both the state and federal constitutions.
Smith said his ruling will be based on the state constitution, not the U.S. Constitution. Qualifying for federal office will run from June 13-17.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.