U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is pursuing a federal lawsuit, Brown v. Detzner, in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court’s approval of a redrawn congressional map for the state. Brown, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, argue that the change means “substantial retrogression” for African-American communities, along with significant dilution of the black vote in her district.
The ruling changes Brown’s district considerably, reshaping it from one that snakes southward from Jacksonville down to Orlando, to an east-west configuration, going from Jax to Tallahassee.
But according to relevant precedent, the lawsuit “has very little chance of succeeding,” said Nicholas Seabrook, professor of political science at the University of North Florida.
“Her case will ultimately turn on whether replacing her old District 5 (which was drawn to link African-American populations in Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Orlando), with the new District 5 approved by the Florida Supreme Court (which instead links Jacksonville and Tallahassee), can be considered ‘retrogressive’ to minority voting rights and representation under Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act,” he said.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas’s District 23 for precisely this reason: It had previously been a 58 percent majority-minority Latino district, but was redrawn so that the Latino voting-age population was just 46 percent.
“Brown’s situation is a little different. Her old district was what’s called a ‘minority-influence’ district rather than a ‘majority-minority’ district. This means that the minority voting-age population (VAP) is less than 50 percent, but large enough to allow minority voters a ‘substantial, if not decisive, role in the electoral process’ (quoting Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in a 2003 case). Brown’s old district had an African-American VAP of 49 percent. Her new district has an African-American VAP of 45 percent. To me this seems like much too small a change for her to successfully argue that it constitutes retrogression under the Voting Rights Act.”
For her part, Brown argues that not only is the official VAP lessened because of the lines being redrawn, the newly drawn district has one of the highest prison populations in the state. It consists of a large percentage of African-American inmates not eligible to vote. She argues that further complicates her standing.
Her claim that an African-American cannot win the district under the new configuration will be put to the test. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a rising Democratic star, is considering challenging her for the seat. Meanwhile, North Florida supporters such former Alvin Brown Chief of Staff Chris Hand are coming strongly to Brown’s defense, saying she’s “worked miracles” for the 5th District.