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New racial gerrymandering lawsuit takes aim at South Florida's powerful congressional districts

A map of the southern portion of Florida depicting numbered shapes representing districts.
U.S. Southern District of Florida
A map of U.S. Congressional districts in South Florida. A new lawsuit challenges districts 19, 26, 27 and 28 for alleged racial gerrymandering.

South Florida has another racial gerrymandering fight on its hands, and the outcome could dictate who gets sent to Washington and Tallahassee to represent millions of local residents.

A swath of plaintiffs from Miami-Dade County, including progressive political advocacy groups Engage Miami and Cubanos Pa’lante, as well as the ACLU Club of Florida International University, have filed a lawsuit against the Florida House of Representatives in federal court alleging a broad scheme of gerrymandering that violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The groups are represented by the ACLU of Florida and law firms out of New York and Washington, D.C.

The lawsuit takes aim at four U.S. congressional districts in South Florida : Districts 19, 26, 27 and 28. It also challenges seven Florida House of Representatives districts: 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118 and 119. All the district seats named in the lawsuit are held by Republican representatives. (A copy of the complaint is embedded at the end of this story.)

READ MORE: City of Miami to vote on new map, $1.5 million payment following 'racial gerrymandering' ruling

The challenged districts run all across the southern end of Florida from Miami-Dade in the east to Lee County to the west, and from as far south as Key West to Hialeah. Congressional District 26, in particular, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, runs nearly the whole width of the state, from the eastern end of Naples to parts of Wynwood in Miami.

The plaintiff groups allege that the Florida Legislature redrew these 11 districts using the race of their voter populations as the predominant factor in the redistricting — grouping Hispanic voters in a way that does not reflect legitimate voting patterns.

"Hispanic voters are not a monolith, we have different opinions and want different forms of representation.”
Mike Rivero, co-founder of Cubanos Pa'lante

The 14th Amendment prohibits centering race in redistricting decisions unless certain criteria are met to protect minority voting groups for a legitimate interest. The plaintiffs argue these criteria were not met.

“The Florida Legislature subordinated traditional redistricting criteria and state constitutional requirements,” the complaint states. “This racial gerrymandering unconstitutionally abridges Plaintiffs’ rights to the equal protection of the laws.”

Mike Rivero, co-founder of Cubanos Pa’lante and one of the individual named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the suit is not a matter of partisan politics, despite it taking aim only at Republican-led districts.

“It's not partisanship at all. It's rather about the unconstitutional splits in districts, in the Latino vote right now in South Florida,” Rivero told WLRN in an interview.

Rivero currently lives in Fort Myers after moving out of Miami. He says people he’s met in east Naples and Immokalee — a small agricultural area in Collier County — are confused as to why they share a congressional district with people in Miami-Dade County.

A map of Florida State House districts in Miami-Dade County. Seven of these districts are being challenged for alleged racial gerrymandering.
U.S. Southern District of Florida
A map of Florida State House districts in Miami-Dade County. Seven of these districts are being challenged for alleged racial gerrymandering.

He says the districts were drawn to bunch Hispanic voters together, but in effect the map splits up communities and groups them with voting groups that don’t have the same backgrounds.

“You know, it doesn't make logical sense when you're looking at those maps,” Rivero said. “And Hispanic voters are not a monolith, we have different opinions and want different forms of representation.”

The new lawsuit follows a recent settlement between a group of plaintiffs — including Engage Miami, and also represented by the ACLU of Florida — and the City of Miami. Engage Miami and a coalition of voting rights groups had sued the City of Miami in federal court in 2022, also alleging racial gerrymandering.

After a judge declared earlier this year that the city was guilty of racially gerrymandering its district map, Miami commissioners voted today to approve a settlement that will see the city adopt a new map drawn by local advocates for the 2025 municipal election.

The ACLU of Florida is on a tear of racial gerrymandering suits throughout the state. Last year, they settled a case with the City of Jacksonville that saw the city adopt a new, constitutionally compliant map drawn by local voting rights groups. Just last month, the nonprofit brought a gerrymandering suit against the Florida Legislature on behalf of voters in the Tampa Bay area.

“Voters should choose their representatives — not the other way around. The Legislature and Governor DeSantis cannot deprive the people of fair representation by packing these districts to achieve arbitrary racial quotas,” said Nicholas L. Villacorta Warren, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida.

The South Florida lawsuit was filed in the U.S. Southern District of Florida and requests a three-judge panel for review. The complaint asks for the court to prohibit any new elections under the current district map in these areas and to call for special elections.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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