Judge finds Florida’s Republican-backed congressional map illegally harms Black voters

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FILE PHOTO: Conservative activists and elected officials from across United States attend CPAC 2022 in Orlando

(Reuters) – A Florida judge on Wednesday said the state’s new congressional map, championed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, unconstitutionally dilutes Black citizens’ voting power.

During a virtual hearing, Circuit Court Judge J. Layne Smith said the map that passed the legislature last month at DeSantis’ urging “diminishes African Americans’ ability to elect the representative of their choice” in a north Florida district in violation of the state constitution.

Smith indicated he planned to issue a formal order on Thursday or Friday striking down the map, which would then likely be appealed by the state.

Voting rights groups challenged the map in a lawsuit focused on the majority-Black district, which is currently held by U.S. Representative Al Lawson, a Black Democrat.

The DeSantis-backed map eliminated that district while ensuring Republicans have the edge in 20 of the state’s 28 U.S. congressional seats, giving Republicans a substantial boost as they seeks to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections.

DeSantis, who is running for reelection, is considered a potential front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

The governor previously vetoed maps that lawmakers had passed and ordered the legislature into a special session to approve new boundaries.

Smith was appointed by DeSantis to his current position.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax)