A Florida congressional redistricting plan championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was upheld Wednesday by a panel of federal judges, who rejected arguments that it discriminated against black voters in the Sunshine State. 

The unanimous ruling is a major win for Republicans ahead of the 2024 elections, as the new map resulted in former Democratic Rep. Al Lawson losing his Fifth District race to Republican John Rutherford in the 2022 midterms.

The Fifth District flip was one of four House seats in Florida gained by Republicans that year with the DeSantis-crafted map. 

Republicans will only have a threadbare 217-213 majority in the House after Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) departs from Congress next month. 

The three-judge panel found no evidence that the Florida Legislature acted with racial motivation when it approved DeSantis’ redistricting plan. 

DeSantis had previously vetoed a congressional map drawn by state lawmakers, arguing that it violated the US Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause because it was racially gerrymandered. 

“Whatever might be said about the Legislature’s decision to give up the fight for preserving a Black-performing district in North Florida, it did not amount to ratification of racial animus in violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments,” the opinion authored by Judges Adalberto Jordan, Casey Rodgers and Allen Winsor stated. 

Whether or not DeSantis considered race when presenting the map to state lawmakers didn’t factor into the panel’s decision, with the ruling noting that “a public and collective decision-making body, like the Florida Legislature, is answerable only for its own unconstitutional actions and motivations.” 

“The unlawful motivations of others — whether constituents, the Governor, or even a single member of the body itself — do not become those of the decision-making body as a whole.”

“Even assuming that Governor DeSantis acted with some unlawful discriminatory motive in creating and proposing the redistricting map that was ultimately enacted into law,” the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently demonstrate that the Florida Legislature “had a similar motive in adopting and passing that map.”

While the ruling can be appealed to the Supreme Court, the justices would be unlikely to rule on the matter before the November election.  

A separate challenge to the map is pending before Florida’s high court. 

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