Federal judge rejects city council approved voting maps, adopts plan introduced by NAACP

City Council President Terrance Freeman during a meeting to redraw city council and school board maps. (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge on Monday rejected a redistricting plan submitted by the Jacksonville City Council and ruled that a map proposed by civil rights groups who sued the city over voting boundaries is the best plan moving forward.

In October, the judge ruled that the city used race, an unconstitutional method, to draw the new lines and ordered the city council to go back to the drawing board. The city council approved a new map in November and sent it to the judge for approval after its first try was rejected.

But when Judge Marcia Morales Howard issued her ruling on Duval County’s boundary maps for city council and school board members Monday evening, she sided with the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP and other civil rights groups who filed their objections to the city’s remedial maps and proposed three maps of their own. Morales Howard said one of the three maps, dubbed Plan 3, was “an appropriate interim remedial plan, such that there is no need for the Court to independently craft a new plan at this time.”

MORE: City expert disputes claim that race was the main factor in how new districts were drawn

“The Court is also satisfied that Plan 3 does not violate any other constitutional or statutory requirement,” she continues in the order.

The plaintiffs say the map for Plan 3 “cures the most egregious violations, by not stripping Black residents from District 14 and not packing them into other districts.”

Morales Howard had hoped both sides could work out a deal, but that didn’t happen so it was up to her to decide what map will be used, and that will play a key role in the upcoming city elections.

Marcella Washington, a former political science professor at Florida State College at Jacksonville who was involved in filing the lawsuit, said before the ruling was handed down that if the decision goes their way, it is going to change Jacksonville.

“I think, because the city has taken the community for granted for so long, especially the Black community. And I think the way they drew their first map, which was thrown out, and we looked at the second map, they presented to the court, which really was not that much different. It was tinkered with a little bit, but really not that much different. So I would be very happy for the City of Jacksonville. It’s a small step forward for Jacksonville, and we have a long way to go in this city,” Washington told News4JAX.

Ahead of the ruling, the Northside Coalition reacted much the same way.

“This battle has always been about Black voting strength, influence and clout. This very important ruling could change the political landscape in Jacksonville for years to come,” leader Ben Frazier said. “We will always fight for equal representation to make certain that we have equal say in how this city is run.”

New4JAX reached out to City Council President Terrance Freeman and Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan, and both said on Monday afternoon they wanted to see the judge’s ruling before making any comment.

After reviewing the document, Hogan and Freeman issued the following statements, respectively.

Notably, Councilman Rory Diamond didn’t agree with the judge’s decision, tweeting: “I fully support an appeal of Judge Howard’s Order to the 11th Circuit. We won’t be using the Plaintiffs’ map.”

The judge wrote that the city of Jacksonville and Hogan, in his official capacity as Duval County Supervisor of Elections, are directed to implement the plan in Jacksonville City Council and Duval County School Board elections, beginning with the regular 2023 city council and 2024 school board elections and until entry of a final judgment in the case.

Read the entire ruling here.

About the Authors:

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

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.