High Court Declines to Rule on Legality of Ron DeSantis' Congressional Map

The Florida Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion on Thursday saying it would not rule on the legality of breaking up a Black-majority district in Governor Ron DeSantis' congressional redistricting map.

In January, DeSantis proposed his own map, which a governor had never done before, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The map would have given Republicans two more districts than the Senate's map and cut the number of Black-held districts in half—from four to two. DeSantis' proposal came at a time of nationwide accusations of gerrymandering, with Newsweek having recently reported on controversial redistricting moves from lawmakers in North Carolina, Ohio and Kansas.

DeSantis asked the Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on whether it is legal to break up District 5, a Black-majority district in the northern part of the state that has elected Representative Al Lawson three times since the district's 2015 approval, according to the Times. In the court's opinion, it specifically said DeSantis asked whether the Florida Constitution allows the district connecting "a minority population in Jacksonville with distant and distinct minority populations…to ensure sufficient voting strength, even if not a majority, to elect a candidate of their choice."

The court ruled against issuing this opinion 5-0, with two justices recusing. In its opinion, the court said "we respectfully deny the request" for an advisory opinion on the topic and that no rehearing would be permitted. It said governors are generally limited to narrower questions for the court, and this question went into "complex federal and state constitutional matters and precedents interpreting the Voting Rights Act of 1965."

It added that the final redistricting bill will be "subject to more judicial review through subsequent challenges in court," and DeSantis' request would likely require "fact-intensive analysis and consideration of other congressional districts, not just District 5."

The governor's request for an opinion from the court received criticism from Democrat groups that said the court interfering in this sector of politics "could open the door to unprecedented judicial interference in future legislation," while the governor and his supporters argued it was a clarification that needed to be made, according to the Times.

In a statement, Lawson commended the court's decision.

"Ron DeSantis wanted the Supreme Court to violate the separation of powers and engage the judicial branch in partisan politics," he said. "They wisely and correctly rejected his request. Yes, Ron DeSantis lost today, but more importantly, democracy and the Constitution won."

Now that the court has denied DeSantis' opinion request, the Florida House must decide whether to agree with the governor's idea to break up District 5 or go with the state Senate's move to keep the district as it is, the Times reported.

DeSantis' office did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Update 02/10/22 1:05 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information from the court's advisory opinion.

Ron DeSantis, Miami Dade College
The Florida Supreme Court decided not to rule on a proposed redistricting map from Governor Ron DeSantis. Above, DeSantis holds a news conference at the Miami Dade College’s North Campus on January 26 in Miami. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images