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City Council will fight racial gerrymandering order

Jacksonville Planning Director Bill Killingsworth and City Attorney Paige Johnson work during a redistricting hearing at William M. Raines High School.
Amanda Rosenblatt
The Tributary
Jacksonville Planning Director Bill Killingsworth and City Attorney Paige Johnston work during a redistricting hearing at William M. Raines High School.

The Jacksonville City Council has decided to appeal a federal court order that found the city had likely racially gerrymandered its district lines. While waiting on the appeal, the council will try to draw a new map to comply with the court order.

Council President Terrance Freeman said the council “disagrees with the outcome of the Court order. Therefore, we have directed the Office of General Counsel to appeal the decision. While we await the appeal, the Council will begin a new redistricting process immediately given the court order and the short window established by the District Court.”

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard found the City Council likely had used race as a predominant factor in drawing the maps in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Black voters, she ruled, have been segregated based on race, which has ensured they won’t have a “meaningful impact on any election or a meaningful voice on any issue of concern.”

She described the city’s council district and Duval County School Board districts as “unnecessary racial segregation,” and she said the facts of the case were “largely unrebutted.”

The city and the Duval County Supervisor of Elections were the named defendants in the case. Duval Supervisor Mike Hogan has said he hopes a decision is made quickly so his office can prepare for the March 2023 elections.

Hogan was not at the council meeting with city lawyers where the council decided the city should appeal the decision.

Councilman Matt Carlucci said he didn’t think the appeal “would get very far,” but he said he was open to re-drawing the maps. “It is my hope that the outcome is two-fold — that district maps will better reflect the diversity of our residents and council members will be held accountable to a broader range of citizens.”

Ben Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, blasted City Council members for the decision.

In a statement, he said: “City officials have no business wasting thousands of taxpayer dollars to go back to court to fight their own constituents. They should just start all over again and come up [with] a fair plan! How much has the city wasted in legal fees already? It’s sad but they will probably waste even more taxpayer dollars just to fight taxpayers on city council redistricting.”

“The federal court was clear: The City Council’s mapmaking was the product of intentional racial gerrymandering. It’s the city’s duty to draw [a] legal map that affords all Jacksonville residents equal representation. If they abdicate that duty, we will continue working with the court to ensure Jaxsons have a fair map for the 2023 elections.”

The city must enact new maps by Nov. 8, and then plaintiffs can object and propose their own maps by Nov. 18.

This story is published through a partnership between WJCT News and The Tributary