ProPublica, the journalistic voice of integrity, suggests that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may have broken the law when he took personal control of redistricting the state’s Congressional seats. The Miami Herald reported the story.

“May have broken the law” is an understatement.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was incensed. Late last year, the state’s Republican Legislature had drawn congressional maps that largely kept districts intact, leaving the GOP with only a modest electoral advantage. DeSantis threw out the Legislature’s work and redrew Florida’s congressional districts, making them far more favorable to Republicans. The plan was so aggressive that the Republican-controlled Legislature balked and fought DeSantis for months. The governor overruled lawmakers and pushed his map through.

DeSantis’ office has publicly stressed that partisan considerations played no role and that partisan operatives were not involved in the new map. A ProPublica examination of how that map was drawn — and who helped decide its new boundaries — reveals a much different origin story. The new details show that the governor’s office appears to have misled the public and the state Legislature and may also have violated Florida law. DeSantis aides worked behind the scenes with an attorney who serves as the national GOP’s top redistricting lawyer and other consultants tied to the national party apparatus, according to records and interviews.

Florida’s Constitution was amended in 2010 to prohibit partisan-driven redistricting, a landmark effort in the growing movement to end gerrymandering as an inescapable feature of American politics. Barbara Pariente, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court who retired in 2019, told ProPublica that DeSantis’ collaboration with people connected to the national GOP would constitute “significant evidence of a violation of the constitutional amendment.” “If that evidence was offered in a trial, the fact that DeSantis was getting input from someone working with the Republican Party and who’s also working in other states — that would be very powerful,” said Pariente, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Democrat Lawton Chiles.

A meeting invite obtained by ProPublica shows that on Jan. 5, top DeSantis aides had a “Florida Redistricting Kick-off Call” with out-of-state operatives. Those outsiders had also been working with states across the country to help the Republican Party create a favorable election map. In the days after the call, the key GOP law firm working for DeSantis logged dozens of hours on the effort, invoices show. The firm has since billed the state more than $450,000 for its work on redistricting. A week and a half after the call, DeSantis unveiled his new map.

No Florida governor had ever pushed their own district lines before. His plan wiped away half of the state’s Black-dominated congressional districts, dramatically curtailing Black voting power in America’s largest swing state.

One of the districts, held by Democrat Al Lawson, had been created by the Florida Supreme Court just seven years before. Stretching along a swath of North Florida once dominated by tobacco and cotton plantations, it had drawn together Black communities largely populated by the descendants of sharecroppers and slaves. DeSantis shattered it, breaking the district into four pieces. He then tucked each fragment away in a majority-white, heavily Republican district….

Analysts predict that DeSantis’ map will give the GOP four more members of Congress from Florida, the largest gain by either party in any state. If the forecasts hold, Republicans will win 20 of Florida’s 28 seats in the upcoming midterms — meaning that Republicans would control more than 70% of the House delegation in a state where Trump won just over half of the vote.

The reverberations of DeSantis’ effort could go beyond Florida in another way. His erasure of Lawson’s seat broke long-held norms and invited racial discrimination lawsuits, experts said. Six political scientists and law professors who study voting rights told ProPublica it’s the first instance they’re aware of where a state so thoroughly dismantled a Black-dominated district.

If the governor prevails against suits challenging his map, he will have forged a path for Republicans all over the country to take aim at Black-held districts. “To the extent that this is successful, it’s going to be replicated in other states. There’s no question,” said Michael Latner, a political science professor at California Polytechnic State University who studies redistricting. “The repercussions are so broad that it’s kind of terrifying.” Al Lawson’s district, now wiped away by DeSantis, had been created in response to an earlier episode of surreptitious gerrymandering in Florida.

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