Judge’s ruling signaled win for plaintiffs in Jacksonville redistricting suit. But could things backfire?

Council president establishes Special Committee on Redistricting; Office of General Counsel retains attorney

The Jacksonville City Council canceled a special meeting that was set for Wednesday where they planned to discuss hiring an outside attorney to fight a judge’s ruling in a lawsuit on newly-drawn district lines, but apparently, the city’s General Counsel Office has already obtained legal representation.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville City Council on Tuesday announced that the Office of General Counsel has retained legal representation to appeal a federal judge’s ruling in a lawsuit sparked by newly-drawn district lines.

Last week, a judge threw out the recently-drawn city council and school board district map after plaintiffs alleged the maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered by race and diminished the voices of Black voters. In the ruling, 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.”

Days later, City Council President Terrance Freeman called for a special meeting, and he issued a statement that reads:

“The Council disagrees with the outcome of the Court order. Therefore, we have directed the Office of General Counsel to appeal the decision. While we await the appeal, the Council will begin a new redistricting process immediately given the court order and the short window established by the District Court.”

🔒 Insider Interactive: See how Jacksonville’s districts would change under City Council’s most recent map

If you look at the makeup of the Jacksonville City Council, there is something that might not stand out. But seven of the 19 members represent the most minorities ever on the council.

When the new district lines were approved earlier this year, some groups — including the local NAACP and the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville — decided to take them to court.

For about 30 years, there have been four council districts in Jacksonville that were primarily minority residents, and with the new maps they remained that way. But the judge determined that’s not right and agreed with those who said race should not have been the factor in drawing the lines.

News4JAX political analyst Rick Mullaney said while it might have been a court victory for the groups that fought the map — it might not end up that way.

“This litigation may be in the category of ‘be careful what you pray for’ because, in effect, the ACLU and the NAACP brought this litigation as plaintiffs and they’ve had the redistricting maps declared unconstitutional on the basis of racial gerrymandering. However, it’s not so clear when you redraw those maps whether there’ll be more favorable or not,” Mullaney explained.

And that’s something City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson also points out. She was co-chair of the committee that redrew the lines and disagrees with the judge’s ruling.

She said the process was open, fair and transparent — and she said another new set of lines might not favor minority candidates.

“I think that if you don’t understand the historical agreements made through consolidation up to the present on how we came to have full inclusion of our neighbors in Jacksonville, including those of no racial minorities, then you don’t understand that we now have more African Americans on the City Council than we’ve ever had,” Jackson said.

Isaiah Rumlin, president of the NAACP in Jacksonville, said he doesn’t believe that will be a problem. They just want to make sure the entire city is open and fair for minority candidates.

The ruling on the new maps have no impact on the upcoming midterm elections, and if the court offers a stay or pause in its decision while the city appeals the case, it may not impact the upcoming spring elections when all the City Council seats are up for re-election.

Even though the city is going to appeal, the council president will begin work on drawing new maps just in case. He is expected to have a statement or announcement on how that is going to work in a day or two.

Who will be in City Council’s Special Committee on Redistricting?

Council President Freeman will serve as chair of the 2022 Special Committee on Redistricting. The other members who will serve on the committee include:

  • Council member Aaron Bowman, co-vice chair
  • Council member Rory Diamond, co-vice chair
  • Council member Nick Howland
  • Council member Sam Newby
  • Council member Ju-Coby Pittman
  • Council member Randy White

The committee is expected to meet in a series of public meetings.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.