Florida: Progressive groups sue the state legislature for 'racially gerrymandering' electoral districts in favor of Hispanics

According to the lawsuit, Republicans approved new district maps because they considered the Hispanic community a protected minority. Democrats argue that in the Sunshine State, they are not.

A large group of progressive and Democratic organizations and figures from South Florida are suing the state legislature and Secretary of State Cord Byrd for redrawing four national congressional districts and seven Sunshine State House districts.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, alleges that all of these districts were “racially gerrymandered in favor of Hispanics and, therefore, are unconstitutional and cannot be used in any election.

The electoral practice of racial gerrymandering, better known as "gerrymandering," consists of manipulating the borders of electoral districts to favor a specific political party or group.

According to the lawsuits, the national congressional districts in dispute are 19, 26, 27 and 28, while the districts for the state House of Representatives indicated in the lawsuit are 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118 and 119. Interestingly, all of these districts are controlled by Republicans.

The disputed districts extend across the entire southern tip of Florida, from Miami-Dade in the east to Lee County in the west and from the south to Key West and Hialeah.

The 26th Congressional District, represented by Republican legislator Mario Díaz-Balart, is quite unique because it spans almost the entire width of the state, from the eastern end of Naples to parts of Wynwood in Miami.

According to the lawsuit, Florida Republicans approved the new district lines based solely on race and leaving aside other relevant criteria for forming boundaries, such as how compact the electoral maps should be.

Point five of the lawsuit reads: “In developing the Challenged Districts, the Legislature elevated race above all other considerations. These Challenged Districts feature tell-tale signs of racial predominance in the ways in which they deviate from traditional redistricting criteria: transgressing major geographic boundaries like the Everglades, unnecessarily splitting political subdivisions like the City of Miami and Collier County, and forming noncompact shapes."

Subsequently, the plaintiffs directly mention that, in their opinion, Hispanics in Florida should not be considered a protected minority but rather a very diverse group of voters who are not cohesive and, therefore, it cannot be used by Republicans as an argument to draw changes in electoral districts.

“Rather, it is nuanced, multifaceted, and diverse with respect to political behavior and preferences,” the plaintiffs argue about the Hispanic voting community in Florida. “But in crafting the Challenged Districts, the Legislature ignored this diversity and assumed that Hispanic voters in South Florida were politically homogenous and monolithic. This assumption was false. The Legislature was not entitled to draw race-based districts based on uninformed assumptions of racial sameness.”

Mike Rivero, co-founder of Cubanos Pa'lante, one of the progressive groups in the lawsuit, told WLRN that the lawsuit does not represent a partisan effort even though it only included districts that Republicans control.

“It's not partisanship at all. It's rather about the unconstitutional splits in districts, in the Latino vote right now in South Florida,” Rivero said.

While lawsuits about radical gerrymandering have been common in Florida in recent years, this one draws particular attention because Democratic and progressive figures, self-proclaimed defenders of minorities, classify Hispanics (a national minority) as a group that should not be considered a minority in the state of Florida.

Organizations such as Engage Miami, affiliated with the University of Florida, and Democrats such as former state representative Cindy Polo are participating in this lawsuit.