A candidate who wants to succeed the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Ron DeSantis, claiming multiple violations of the Constitution because the governor hasn’t scheduled a special election to fill the vacancy created by Hastings’ death.
The candidate, Elvin Dowling, wants a U.S. district judge to order DeSantis to schedule election dates no later than this fall.
Hastings died on April 6 and the governor, who has the power to call special elections to fill congressional vacancies, hasn’t set primary or general election dates. Some political insiders believe he’s waiting to sign legislation that would change election laws and alter procedure for replacing current elected officials who resign to run for other offices.
DeSantis’ press office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the governor’s plans for setting an election or about the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Dowling asserts that failure to call a special election is depriving residents of the Broward-Palm Beach County 20th Congressional District of their right to vote, preventing them from having representation in the House, constitutes “voter suppression” and interferes with Dowling’s “First Amendment rights to engage in political speech and activities.”
“DeSantis’s obligation to fill the Hastings vacancy is mandatory under the United States Constitution and Florida Constitution,” the lawsuit states, adding that “all the circumstances together with the delay indicate Gov. DeSantis’s silence and failure to act constitute a de facto refusal to take the action required of him.” Florida law requires a governor to set a special election — but doesn’t impose a timetable.
Kevin Wagner, a lawyer and Political Science Department chairman at Florida Atlantic University, said Dowling’s assertions were a “somewhat novel argument.”
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“I suspect most courts would be reluctant to find, at least at this stage, any violation of the federal Constitution,” Wagner said. Conceivably, it might at some point be different if the governor refused to issue an election order and said “I’m not going to do it.”
Dowling, in a statement separate from the lawsuit, noted DeSantis’ likely 2024 candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, and suggested that might be why he doesn’t want a quick election in the district, which is so Democratic that the winner of the primary is virtually guaranteed to win the congressional seat. “The governor’s intentional delay of the vote is a deliberate attempt to curry favor with far right-wing extremists in the 2024 Republican presidential race,” he said.
The lawsuit itself includes multiple political statements, lamenting that residents of the 20th District, which includes most of the African American and Caribbean American communities in Broward and Palm Beach counties, are “without representation in this current legal and political environment in which the United States Congress is taking action on measures critical to Black Americans.” It cites proposed legislation governing policing and quotes a tweet from President Joe Biden supporting the bill.
So far 10 people, including six current or former elected officials, have declared themselves candidates for the Hastings seat.
Dowling, who has not held elected office, said he once interned for Hastings, and is a reverend and author. The late congressman wrote the forward for Dowling’s 2020 book, “Still Invisible? Examining America’s Black Male Crisis.” The book includes a picture of Dowling and Hastings, which it said was taken in the congressman’s Washington office around 1994.