A Florida state appellate court has smacked down a judge’s ruling that gave Democrats hope of overturning Gov. Ron DeSantis’ congressional redistricting map for the fall elections.
In its 20-page ruling, a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said Leon County Circuit Judge Layne Smith issued a “patently unlawful” ruling in granting a temporary injunction that favored the “voting-rights” groups suing the state over the map.
According to the appellate judges, Smith erred by favoring a proposal offered by the groups suing the state, instead of simply stopping the DeSantis map from being used until the legal wrangling was finished. Those groups include Democratic activist lawyer and Clinton associate Marc Elias.
Elias was a critical go-between in helping Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign hire Christopher Steele, the former British spy who concocted the infamous, discredited dossier that claimed former President Donald Trump was colluding with Russian operatives in the election.
In its ruling the appellate panel said Smith’s temporary injunction “does not just return the parties to the condition that existed before the subject matter at the center of the present controversy … became law,” referring to the DeSantis map. “The order does much more.”
In essence, the judges said, the injunction would force the state to conduct elections under the plan floated by those attacking DeSantis, which is “entirely new” and has not been approved by the Legislature.
“A temporary injunction, if warranted, could only reinstate the former congressional map,” as used in the last congressional elections, the judges said. “It could never put in place a map that did not exist before the present controversy began.”
“The circuit court even acknowledges that it is crafting a remedy for the appellees [those suing to block the governor’s map] until there can be a trial. The grant of this provisional remedy, unmoored from an adjudication, was an unauthorized exercise of judicial discretion, making the temporary injunction unlawful on its face.”
Such a “temporary injunction is not a vehicle by which to procure a provisional remedy, nor is it a procedural tool by which to fast-track some burning constitutional question for appellate consideration in advance of trial,” the panel continued.
“There has been no trial or final evidentiary hearing, no final adjudication of the facts, and no declaratory judgment,” the ruling added. “The pleadings have not closed, the state parties have not answered, and no one has stepped forward to set the matter for trial. Nevertheless, it seems as if the determination of the temporary injunction motion is being treated as if it is the determination on the merits. Yet, it is not. It cannot be.”
“This abuse of authority by the circuit court, by itself, is enough support” to reject Smith’s decision, the appellate court added.
“Whether there is merit to the constitutional challenge at the center of the appellees’ complaint is a question for another day, after a trial in the circuit court,” the judges added, further noting “there is no compelling justification for allowing a patently unlawful temporary injunction to remain in effect.”
At issue is the map approved by lawmakers and enacted by DeSantis. It essentially wipes out a cherry-picked district now held by Democratic Rep. Al Lawson.
That district largely follows Interstate 10 in running from Jacksonville to a point west of Tallahassee. It was designed that way, with court approval, in 2015 to improve the chances of electing a black candidate. Lawson is black.
DeSantis changed the map to geographically consolidate the districts to make it align with a state constitutional requirement for more compact districts.
Black Voters Matter and other groups sued, calling DeSantis’ plan racist.