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April 10, 2024

The lawsuit argues the map packs Black voters into a single district, forcing distinct communities together based on race

TAMPA, FL – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Civil Rights & Racial Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law filed a lawsuit on behalf of five St. Petersburg and Tampa residents, challenging two Florida Senate districts in the Tampa Bay area as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. 

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tampa, alleges that the Legislature packed Black voters into District 16, connecting geographically disconnected parts of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Packing Black voters into District 16 ensures that neighboring District 18 has an artificially low number of Black voters, diminishing the community’s influence in that adjacent district. This racial gerrymandering does not advance representation and cannot be justified by compliance with the Voting Rights Act, the Florida Constitution’s minority-protection mandates, or any other compelling interest. 

“These districts deny communities of color equal representation and dilute the votes of Black residents in the Tampa Bay region,” said Deborah N. Archer, NYU Law’s associate dean for experiential education and clinical programs and director of the Civil Rights & Racial Justice Clinic. “We look forward to overturning this unconstitutional map in court.” 

The packed district extends across Tampa Bay to artificially inflate the number of Black voters in the district. This depresses the Black populations of the surrounding districts because district lines carefully avoid neighborhoods with Black residents. As a result, a majority of the region’s Black voters are placed into a single State Senate seat. Alternative mapping configurations show that drawing the district just on the Tampa side of the bay would increase Black voting power in District 18, while maintaining Black voters’ ability to elect candidates of their choice in District 16. 

“Diluting the voice of Black voters while amplifying the political power of others is unfair, undemocratic, and unconstitutional,” said Daniel Tilley, legal director of the ACLU of Florida. “Black voters in St. Pete and Tampa deserve full and fair opportunities for representation, so we sued.” 

Upon filing, two of the plaintiffs said: 

“Black residents deserve equitable representation in the Florida Senate,” said Jarvis El-Amin, a local civil rights leader, Tampa resident, and plaintiff in the case. “We demand to have our voices heard and our votes fairly represented—not diminished, diluted, cracked, or packed.” 

“Today, we’re standing up for what’s right,” said Meiko Seymour, a local pastor, St. Pete resident, and plaintiff in the case. “Crossing Tampa Bay to pack Black people into a single district all the way from the University of South Florida to the Skyway Bridge diminishes our voice, suppresses our votes, and just plain doesn’t make sense.”

The complaint in Nord Hodges v. Passidomo, including maps of the challenged districts, can be found here.