JACKSONVILLE – U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) is continuing to fight a redistricting plan that would shift her congressional district from north-south to east-west, but her prospects for victory aren’t clear for several reasons.
Brown’s appeal to a three-judge panel was rejected earlier this month, and in a statement she said that she was appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court in order to ensure African-American voters had a say in who represents them.
Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, said that because of changing demographics and more political involvement by African-Americans, her case might be less compelling than it once was.
“Her argument is, basically, that you need a high percentage of African-Americans in a district in order to allow African-Americans to elect their candidate of choice,” Li recently told the Florida Record. “And what we've seen, at least in other parts of the South and in Florida, is that's no longer the case, and that African-Americans have the ability to elect their candidate of choice with lower percentages, including districts with percentages much below 50. What's changed is that African-Americans turn out at higher rates and they are registered at higher rates.”
In several congressional districts in Texas, he said, African-Americans are not a majority but the candidate preferred by African-Americans has won the election.
“None of them have an African-American population much above 40 percent, and some of them are lower than that," Li said. "It requires a case-by-case, district-by-district analysis, so (Brown) might be right about her district, but certainly elsewhere in the South, African-Americans feel comfortable with districts that have lower percentages.”
Brown, who has served 12 terms in Congress, is challenging the redistricting, which was drawn on the orders of the state’s Supreme Court. That case was the result of a 2010 amendment to the state’s constitution that barred gerrymandering – the process of drawing congressional districts to favor one political party or to favor an incumbent.
Under the new map, Brown’s district, which had run in a north-south direction from Jacksonville to Orlando, would run east-west from Jacksonville to Gasden County. When rejecting Brown’s claims, the three-judge panel noted that the evidence presented showed that candidates preferred by African-Americans would still likely prevail, though with lower margins of victory.
The fact the map was drawn on the orders of the Florida Supreme Court could hurt Brown’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Li said.
“You have to (have) four justices agree to take the case,” he said. “It will be interesting to see if she can convince four justices that it's an important enough issue, given that it involves a court-drawn map. One difference is that the court is more likely to be deferential with a fellow court, even a state court, as opposed to a legislature.”