Cherfilus-McCormick says DeSantis’ proposed congressional redistricting would disenfranchise Black South Florida voters

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U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick condemned Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed map of Florida congressional districts, arguing Monday it would seriously harm Black voters and violate both the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

Under the proposed DeSantis map, all the Palm Beach County voters in her 20th Congressional District would be moved to a different district, leaving a Broward-only District. The current boundaries of the district are crafted to make it much more likely that Black residents of the two counties would elect a Black member of Congress.

The proposed DeSantis changes would place the major communities in Palm Beach County into a district represented by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Treasure Coast Republican, making it exceedingly unlikely they would have Black representative in Congress, Cherfilus-McCormick said, adding in a telephone interview that the move is “dangerous” and something “we’ve never seen before.”

Earlier Monday, Cherfilus-McCormick filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court arguing that the DeSantis proposal would unfairly reduce the number of districts likely to elect Black members of Congress from the state, as well as hurt the Black voters of Palm Beach County.

“Broward County [would] still [have] minority representation. What about all the minorities in Palm Beach that he just disenfranchised?” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “Every minority area would be all under Brian Mast in one huge district totally diluting minority access.”

Cherfilus-McCormick, the first Haitian American Democrat elected to Congress, was elected in a Jan. 11 special election to fill the vacancy created by the death last year of U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.

Cherfilus-McCormick said it’s important to maximize the ability of minority voters to elect minority lawmakers.

“If you look at traditionally how minorities haven’t been included in the voting process, in the political process, it is important that we be able to come together and have representation,” she said.

The current 20th District, which stretches from Miramar in southwest Broward to Riviera Beach in northeastern Palm Beach County, takes in most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in the two counties.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., administers the House oath of office to Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla. during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Cherfilus-McCormick won a special election Florida's 20th congressional district to fill the seat left vacant after Rep. Alcee Hastings's death last year.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of Calif., administers the House oath of office to Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla. during a ceremonial swearing-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022. Cherfilus-McCormick won a special election Florida’s 20th congressional district to fill the seat left vacant after Rep. Alcee Hastings’s death last year. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

The state Legislature is charged with drawing new congressional district boundaries in advance of this year’s elections to adjust for population changes uncovered in the 2020 Census. DeSantis has the authority to sign or veto a congressional redistricting plan.

“The proposed realignment of voters in Congressional District 20, representing Broward and Palm Beach Counties, significantly diminishes the participation of minority voters in a matter that dilutes their voting strength to elect a member of their choice in violation of the United States Constitution,” Cherfilus-McCormick said in her brief filed with the Supreme Court.

She argued that the DeSantis plan “is designed on its face to pack and dilute Black voters into congressional districts in a manner that reduces the number of Black members of Congress in Florida from four to two. The proposed plan affects Congressional District 20, just as it does Congressional District 5, by diminishing the ability of minority voters to utilize their voting strength to elect a candidate of their choice.”

The proposal “will produce discriminatory results for Black Floridians,” she wrote, making it “blatantly unconstitutional because race is admittedly the predominant motive.”

Most of the discussion about the DeSantis proposal has concerned the elimination of the majority Black district in northern Florida, that includes Jacksonville and Tallahassee. That’s represented by U.S. Rep. Al Lawson. Under the DeSantis plan, Lawson’s district would have more Republicans, and it would be more difficult to win re-election.

“Al Lawson’s seat is a huge issue,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “I wanted to be able to point out the collateral damage.”

DeSantis’ proposal would also significantly alter the district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Orlando. She is running for U.S. Senate and isn’t seeking re-election.

After DeSantis offered up his own version of a congressional district map and asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide if eliminating Lawson’s district is constitutional, the Legislature stopped work on congressional redistricting. The Republican-controlled Florida Senate had earlier approved a map that largely kept the Lawson district intact. To take in enough Black voters to increase the likelihood of electing a Black lawmaker, the district is extremely wide — more than 200 miles.

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In the interview and in her court brief, Cherfilus-McCormick said the state Supreme Court should reject DeSantis’ request for an advisory opinion on the legality of the plan. She also said the governor should stick to his constitutional role of signing or vetoing a proposed plan of districts — not trying to meddle in the drawing of the lines.

“The power to approve or veto laws does not make one a king” Cherfilus-McCormick told the court.

DeSantis, in his own brief filed Monday, said the Supreme Court should consider the case.

And, he said, that he wasn’t asking for the court to issue an opinion on his map. Instead, he said, he’s asking a related question: whether minority-voting protects require “a district in northern Florida that stretches hundreds of miles to connect a Black population in Jacksonville with a Black population in Gadsden and Leon Counties so that they can elect a candidate of their choice, even though not a majority.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody said in her office’s filing that the Supreme Court should weigh in on the matter.

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