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Jacksonville seeks to halt redistricting appeal

Bill Bortzfield

Jacksonville asked a court Tuesday to allow the city to halt its appeal of a racial gerrymandering ruling while the city finalizes a settlement with civil rights groups.

The city had already agreed to stop appealing a ruling that the City Council had racially gerrymandered with its original map and had instead focused its efforts on appealing the court’s decision to order the city to use a map drawn by plaintiffs. The city filed the latest motion to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, indicating Jacksonville may be on the verge of settling with the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP and the other plaintiffs.

“The City, Supervisor Hogan, and Plaintiffs are nearing a finalized settlement agreement that would end this case,” the motion said. “The parties are currently finalizing settlement terms, but additional time is needed for the Office of General Counsel to discuss the settlement terms with the City Council, and, of course, the Council needs additional time to convene and vote on the settlement agreement. The parties also need additional time to seek the district court’s approval of the settlement agreement.”

The Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP, the Northside Coalition, the ACLU of Florida Northeast Chapter and Florida Rising, along with 10 Jacksonville voters first filed suit in early May 2022, asking the court to strike down seven of the city’s 14 council districts and three of Duval County’s seven School Board seats. Last October, a court did just that.

Absent a settlement, the city must file its briefs by next week, appealing the court’s decision to order the new maps. The full case is set to go to trial in March 2024.

So far, the city has lost in court five times. A federal court ruledthe city’s original redistricting map had segregated voters on the basis of race. The court refused to halt that order. A federal appeals court also refused to stay the order. The city then got a second chance at redistricting, but the federal court found the city didn’t correct the racial gerrymandering and instead ordered the city to use a map drawn by the plaintiffs. A federal appeals court also declined to halt that order.

The Jacksonville City Council met with the Office of General Counsel in a private meeting Monday. After the meeting, General Counsel Jason Teal said that ahe “hadn’t presented [the City Council] with a deal” and that he hadn’t discussed what options might be available in a settlement. “I can’t really tell you what the direction of the council would be.”

Because the City Council would still need to vote publicly on any deal to accept a settlement, Teal said he “wouldn’t feel comfortable bringing to them [in private], ‘Okay, here’s our settlement. Do you want to do it?'”

Councilman Matt Carlucci said the council had asked the city’s lawyers “to explore a way to resolve the lawsuit. I can’t say exactly what that will be or what the council will do with it. The council will have the final say. My opinion has already been made public, which is I support the P3 map” drawn by plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs had submitted two maps that they said they supported, called P1 and P2. They also submitted P3 as a third map to the court that they said complied with the criteria that the City Council had claimed was a priority in redistricting. The map, the plaintiffs said, had fixed the council map’s “more glaring violations” of the U.S. Constitution.

“Plaintiffs are not convinced that P3 will fully cure the constitutional violations,” the plaintiffs said in a court filing. The court ended up choosing that P3 map.

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