Eyes turn to federal judge as she decides on accepting Jacksonville's redistricting map

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard will decide over next three weeks whether she will accept Jacksonville City Council's latest redistricting map.
U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard will decide over next three weeks whether she will accept Jacksonville City Council's latest redistricting map.

Candidates and voters will know in the next three weeks what the boundaries will be for Jacksonville City Council districts in the spring elections because U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard has received all the arguments she asked for in a federal redistricting lawsuit.

The city made its case Monday for Howard to approve the lines that City Council drew earlier this month after she said the city's previous map used unconstitutional "racial gerrymandering."

The city's filing will likely be the final legal argument in the case. Duval County Supervisor of Elections Mike Hogan has said he needs to know what the City Council district map will be by Dec. 16.

New map had a long road: Jacksonville City Council approves a proposed redistricting map after twists and turns

Redistricting changes: Times-Union analysis shows minor shift in Black residents from 'racially gerrymandered' districts

Howard can accept the city's latest map, choose a map submitted by the civil rights groups who successfully sued the city, or come up with her own map.

At a status conference on Nov. 21, Howard said the city's map and the civil rights groups' map were "not that dissimilar" and she encouraged them to see if they can reach a settlement.

But they have not reached any agreement so as it stands, it is in Howard's hands.

The city's filing said she should give deference to the map approved by City Council because it complies with her court order and should be deemed constitutional.

City Council did not use race as a predominant factor in drawing its proposed map, the city's filing says.

"Chastened by this court's preliminary finding that plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on their racial gerrymandering claim, the council reframed its redistricting approaching in order to pass a plan that complies with the Constitution," the city's filing says.

New map 'shuffles Black residents' into four districts, opponents say

The city had to do a new map after Howard ruled in favor of the Jacksonville branch of the NAACP, the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, ACLU of Florida Northeast Florida Chapter, Florida Rising Together and 10 residents. They sued the city arguing it intentionally packed Black voters into Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 and limited their influence in neighboring districts.

They told Howard in a filing earlier this month that the city's latest map makes insignificant changes to the problems cited in Howard's order.

The city's proposed map "resembles a shell game — a sleight-of-hand that shuffles Black residents within" Districts 7, 8, 9 and 10 "but still maroons them there,” the plaintiff's filing said.

The city's filing said Howard should not take that plaintiff's approach in assessing the latest map.

The filing said the judge should "reject out of hand" an analysis based on a "collective rather than a district-by-district basis." The city said that on a district-by-district basis, districts 7 through 10 "no longer artificially pack Black residents within their individual borders."

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Federal judge will rule in Jacksonville City Council redistricting case