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A state court judge blocked Florida's new Republican-drawn congressional map from taking effect on Wednesday, ruling that it violates the state constitution because it "diminishes African Americans' ability to elect candidates of their choice." Circuit Judge Layne Smith, who was appointed to his current post by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, further ordered that the state implement a remedial map that restores the Fifth District in northern Florida to its previous Jacksonville-to-Tallahassee configuration and makes commensurate changes to neighboring districts.
At issue is a set of amendments reforming the redistricting process that voters approved in 2010, often known as the "Fair Districts" amendments. These amendments prohibit, among other things, the "retrogression" of minority voting rights in both congressional and legislative redistricting. As ACLU attorney Nicholas Warren explained, "This means no backsliding in minority voters' ability to elect candidates of choice"—which in the case of the Fifth District would mean a Black Democrat.
Indeed, the current representative for the Fifth, Al Lawson, fits that mold precisely. But to maximize GOP fortunes and please his base, DeSantis demanded a map that shattered the Fifth and transformed it from a safely blue district with a 46 percent Black plurality to a solidly red seat with a 67 percent white majority. That, said Smith in an oral ruling from the bench, violated the Fair Districts amendment that governs congressional line-drawing.
Republicans are certain to appeal, so Smith's decision may not stand. But it bears noting that the present east-west version of the Fifth District was ultimately blessed by the state Supreme Court in a 2015 ruling following a successful challenge to the GOP's prior map under the Fair Districts amendment. The high court has grown considerably more conservative since then thanks to appointments by DeSantis and his predecessor, Rick Scott, though as Warren noted, "the anti-retrogression mandate is a clear and uncontroversial part" of state law.
Whether that proves any sort of obstacle to the justices is the key question, though the appellate courts could also rule—as the U.S. Supreme Court regularly has in cases that disfavor Republicans—that it’s too late for Florida to change its map this year. Practically speaking, however, the state has three and a half months to prepare as Florida’s primary is not until Aug. 23.
The remedial plan adopted by Smith leaves the rest of DeSantis' map intact, but several other districts are still being challenged as partisan gerrymanders, which are also barred by the Fair Districts amendment.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.
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Nearly five dozen House Republicans voted against a $40 billion aid package to help Ukraine fight off the violent Russian invasion of their country.
The aid package still passed the House by a vote of 368-57, with every Democrat voting in favor of helping Ukraine beat back Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose violent invasion has led to nearly more than 2,400 civilian deaths and thousands more injuries, according to the United Nations.
The bill includes both military funding to help the Ukrainians fight back against their Russian aggressors, as well as humanitarian aid to help the struggling citizens in the war-torn country.
Those 57 Republicans voted against the aid package as Democrats and Republicans alike described the funding as a vote against Putin — whose brutality is part of an effort to expand Russia's geographic footprint.
"This is a historic vote, and it could determine the course of this war, and to vote no is a vote for Putin," Rep. Mike McCaul (R-TX) told Politico.
The Republican "no" votes were from some of former President Donald Trump's biggest supporters in the House, including Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Jim Jordan (R-OH).
In February, at the start of Putin's invasion, Trump praised Putin as "smart," saying that the Russian dictator's decision to invade Ukraine was "genius" and "wonderful." In the months since, Russia has unleashed brutal attacks on civilians and has seen its military suffer losses — including of top Russian generals.
In a speech on the House floor, Greene said that the United States shouldn't help Ukraine because the country needs to stop "funding regime change and money laundering scams."
Polling, however, shows that providing aid to Ukraine is overwhelmingly popular among the typically polarized American electorate.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll from May 2 found that 76 percent of Americans say the United States should give more military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, including a majority of people who voted for Trump.
Reprinted with permission from American Independent.