Government, News, Politics

Redistricting Plan Thrown Out

On Wednesday, April 10, federal Judge K. Michael Moore ruled that the  City of Miami redistricting plan, passed in March 2022 and disputed ever  since, is unconstitutional and must be replaced by a new plan and  district map.

Moore’s decision marks a major turning point in the legal tug-of-war  between the City of Miami, the ACLU of Florida, and a local coalition  including Grove Rights and Community Equity (GRACE), the NAACP, Engage  Miami, West Grove community leader Clarice Cooper, and others.

The ACLU of Florida argued successfully that the city’s district maps  were racially gerrymandered. In an 83-page opinion, Judge Moore agreed,  citing numerous instances in which city commissioners clearly  demonstrated that, when deciding district boundaries in 2022 and again  in 2023, they were motivated above all by race.

“Over the course of six Commission meetings, the Commissioners  repeatedly instructed [their consultant] to design a map containing  three majority Hispanic, one majority Black, and one plurality ‘Anglo’  district. More than any other consideration, this objective was of  paramount importance,” the judge found.

And that, Judge Moore concluded, was unconstitutional. “By sorting its  citizens based on race, the City reduced Miamians to no more than their  racial backgrounds, thereby denying them the equal protection of the  laws that the Fourteenth Amendment promises.”

Going forward, Judge Moore permanently enjoined the city from “calling,  conducting, supervising, or certifying any elections under the  unconstitutional districts.”

Starting now, Miami’s electoral redistricting will be controlled by  Judge Moore’s district court. A next step will be a status conference to  discuss potential remedies, including but not limited to the imposition  of special elections and a new district map. Many people close to the  dispute believe that a final district map is not likely to take effect  until the November 2025 municipal election.

During the two years since the initial adoption of the redistricting  map, a principal factor slowing the process was the numerous judgments  and appeals.

Since then, the makeup and tenor of the City Commission has changed  significantly. Whether the City will appeal the judge’s latest decision  is not yet known.

If the City does not appeal the decision, political insiders speculate  that Miami’s redistricting might go in a number of different directions.  They could include a new district map, special elections later this  year for all five commission seats, an expanded commission (community  advocates have called repeatedly to expand the city to seven or nine  districts, which would require a vote to change the city charter), a  return to at-large seats, and a loss of diversity on the Commission  dais.

Before 1997, Miami voters elected their commissioners citywide. Then the  City adopted the five electoral districts that have continued, with  minor variations, until today. One of the goals of the 1997  restructuring, current Miami commissioners readily admit, was to  diversify the commission’s makeup.

Miami is approximately three-quarters Hispanic. The “racial  gerrymandering” established in 1997 was designed to ensure that three  seats on the commission would be Hispanic, one Black, and one “Anglo.”

“We’re thrilled with the judge’s ruling,” says Clarice Cooper, a GRACE  board member and an individual plaintiff in the case. “This has given us  an opportunity to see that we really need more districts in our city so  that everybody can be adequately represented. It’s also an opportunity  for Coconut Grove to be unified again, or at least for the redistricting  to be done fairly.”

Under the plan in effect until Judge Moore’s latest decision, Coconut  Grove was divided into two districts—most of the Grove in District 2,  but a large part of the North Grove in District 3.  

“Today is another win for democracy and equal representation,”  said Nicholas Warren, staff attorney with the ACLU of Florida. “We look  forward to another remedial process that finally ensures voters can  choose their representatives, rather than politicians choosing their  voters.” 

There can be no doubt that the political climate in Miami, tainted by  the numerous scandals of the past year, is changing. At its April 11  meeting, the City Commission voted 4-1 to remove City Attorney Victoria  Méndez from her position immediately. She will play a transitional role  in the City Attorney’s office while the search continues for her  replacement. Méndez was a central figure in the redistricting disputes  of the last two years, leading the charge for the City.

During the emotional discussion that led to the final vote on Méndez’  position, Commissioner Damian Pardo, who made the motion to remove  Méndez earlier than previously agreed, said, “I personally do not have  confidence in the information I receive [from you].” Commissioner Miguel  Gabella left no doubt why, in his mind, a vote was needed. “I think  you’ve been doing a bad job,” he said, “and every time I ask you a  question, I don’t trust you.”

Download Judge Moore’s opinion, which presents a detailed background of the case, here. Links to a PDF

Visit the ACLU’s update on the decision here.

Read One Grove’s announcement and petition here.


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