Judge throws out Jacksonville’s newly-drawn districts in racial gerrymandering suit

Federal judge orders Jacksonville City Council to approve new map by Nov. 8

In a lengthy 140-page ruling filed Wednesday, a federal judge threw out Jacksonville’s newly-drawn city council and school board district map.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a lengthy 140-page ruling filed Wednesday, a federal judge threw out Jacksonville’s newly-drawn city council and school board district map.

Plaintiffs, including voters and local chapters of the NAACP and ACLU, alleged the maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered by race and diminish the voices of Black voters. The case was set for trial in 2023, but the plaintiffs wanted a federal judge to step in before that.

INSIDERS: Interactive map, see how Jacksonville’s city council districts would have changed

In the ruling, the judge said plaintiffs presented “evidence, which stands unrebutted, that it was possible to draw district lines in a manner that equalized populations, minimized River crossings, and resulted in compact and contiguous districts.”

The judge found there was “a compelling case that race was the predominant factor in the drawing of the Challenged Districts,” and that the shape of the districts was “dictated by race.” The judge found that the districts confine the voice of Black voters to districts 7, 8, 9 and 10.

The judge granted the motion to strike down the new districts and ordered the Jacksonville City Council to approve a new map by Nov. 8. If the council cannot meet that deadline, it must inform the judge, who then could propose legal remedies.

The conclusion reads in part:

“The Court is fully cognizant that interfering with a legislative body’s districting plan is a serious intrusion on the responsibility of the legislative branch. And a court should do so only upon a clear showing that such interference is demanded. Here, although the Court acts with reluctance, the Court is convinced that failing to act would be an even more serious failure of the responsibility of the judicial branch.

“Thus, the Court will grant the Motion and provide the City with a reasonable opportunity to enact new district lines ahead of the upcoming election. With voting maps drawn in a manner that comports with the Constitutional mandate of the Equal Protection Clause, the voters of Jacksonville must decide their representation.”

City Council member Sam Newby, who helped draw the new lines that were approved by the council, said he disagrees with the ruling.

“It was transparent,” he said. “And so I was really, really surprised.”

“I stand by the line that was drawn,” Newby added. “I think we did a great job. And just like I point back to in 2011, I think we have four Black council members of maybe five. Now we have seven.”

Here’s a copy of the court document:

Jacksonville City Council President Terrance Freeman issued a statement:

“Our attorneys are currently reviewing the 139-page order and I will be meeting with them soon to discuss what the next steps may be. We will explore all our legal options and proceed accordingly.”

Daniel Henry, chair of the Duval County Democratic Party issued a statement that reads:

“We applaud Judge Morales Howard’s preliminary injunction blocking the use of Jacksonville City Council’s gerrymandered map. From the beginning, we have advocated for fair maps that protect residents’ rights to have a voice in their local government. This ruling reaffirms our belief that the maps passed by the council, earlier this year, racially segregated Duval County residents and silenced their voices. It’s now incumbent on City Council, to embrace this ruling, and proceed with a fair and equitable redistricting process that produces maps that are logically shaped and racially balanced by the court-imposed deadline.”

BeJae Shelton, board member of the American Civil Liberties Union Florida Northeast chapter, issued a statement that reads:

“We are proud of our friends and neighbors who stood up to advocate for their voting rights and achieved this win for fair representation in Jacksonville. They have made a positive difference for Jacksonville communities, who will now have an equal voice in their city government.”

Ben Frazier, of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, which was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, issued a statement that reads:

“This is a major victory that changes the whole political landscape in Duval County. The court’s decision to block maps that pack Black communities into too few districts represents positive change for Jacksonville. We now hope for maps that give us fair representation & an equal voice to advocate for the prosperity of our communities.”

About the Authors:

A Florida-born, Emmy Award winning journalist and proud NC A&T SU grad