Groups claim South Florida districts are racially gerrymandered for Hispanics in lawsuit

MIAMI (AP) — Progressive civic groups have challenged how four congressional districts and seven state House districts in South Florida were drawn by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, claiming they were racially gerrymandered for Hispanics who are too diverse in Florida to be considered a protected minority.

The groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday, claiming the districts are unconstitutional and asking a federal court in South Florida to stop them from being used for any elections. Named as defendants were the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd.

A message seeking comment was left Saturday at the Secretary of State’s office.

According to federal and state law, race can be considered during redistricting to protect minority voters if the minority group is cohesive and if majority-white voters are able to keep the minority group from electing their preferred candidates.

However, the Florida Legislature wrongly assumed that South Florida's Hispanic voters are cohesive when that's no longer the case since the white majority in Florida regularly votes in coalition with the Hispanic voters in South Florida, the lawsuit said.

“Rather, it is nuanced, multifaceted, and diverse with respect to political behavior and preferences,” the lawsuit said of South Florida's Hispanic community. “The Legislature was not entitled to draw race-based districts based on uninformed assumptions of racial sameness.”

Instead, genuine minority communities of interest in the city of Miami and Collier County, which is home to Naples, were split up when the districts were drawn, according to the lawsuit.

More than two-thirds of the residents of Miami-Dade County — where the districts targeted by the lawsuit are concentrated — are Hispanic.

“In drawing these districts, the Florida Legislature subordinated traditional redistricting criteria and state constitutional requirements to race without narrowly tailoring the district lines to advance a compelling government interest,” the lawsuit said.

The congressional districts being challenged — 19, 26, 27 and 28 — stretch from the Fort Myers area on the Gulf Coast across the state to the Miami area and down to the Florida Keys. The House districts under scrutiny — 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 118, and 119 — are concentrated in the Miami area.

All the districts currently are being represented by Republicans.

As drawn, the districts violate basic principles of good district drawing, such as making sure communities stay intact, being compact and keeping districts from stretching far and wide into disparate neighborhoods, the lawsuit said.