Subpoena seeks conversations around Florida redistricting in lawsuit claiming new districts are discriminatory

DeSantis at Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit in July 2022. - Photo by Dave Decker
Photo by Dave Decker
DeSantis at Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit in July 2022.

Plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s new congressional redistricting plan will subpoena documents from a consultant and a lawyer who played roles in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ efforts to pass the plan this spring.

A court filing last week said plaintiffs will seek a wide range of documents from consultant Adam Foltz and Robert Popper, a senior attorney with the conservative group Judicial Watch.

Among other things, the subpoenas will seek any documents involving communications between the men and DeSantis, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Florida and the National Republican Congressional Committee and any draft or partial redistricting plans.

Foltz also has worked in the past on Republican-led redistricting efforts in states such as Wisconsin and Texas, according to media reports. Popper, a former U.S. Department of Justice official, testified on behalf of DeSantis as lawmakers worked on redistricting early this year.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, including groups such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, filed a notice Thursday that is a step toward serving the subpoenas on Foltz and Popper.

The subpoenas are part of a broader effort to dig into behind-the-scenes discussions that led to the Legislature in April passing a redistricting plan sought by DeSantis. In last week’s elections, the redistricting plan played a large role in Republicans picking up four seats in Florida’s congressional delegation — and potentially helping the GOP take narrow control of the U.S. House.

Leon County Circuit Judge J. Lee Marsh last month sided with requests from the plaintiffs and ruled that key state lawmakers and J. Alex Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to DeSantis, could be questioned about the redistricting plan.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in April, alleging that the redistricting plan violates a 2010 “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment that set guidelines for reapportionment.

The case focuses heavily on Congressional District 5, which in recent years stretched from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee and elected U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Black Democrat. The plan put District 5 in the Jacksonville area and diminished the chances that it would elect a black candidate — a change that critics have contended violated a “non-diminishment” standard in the Fair Districts amendment.

Lawson ended up running last week in another North Florida district and lost to U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla.

Information about the roles that outside consultants or lawyers played in drawing up the redistricting plan could play an important part in the legal battle. In litigation after the 2012 redistricting process, information emerged about behind-the-scenes roles that Republican political operatives played in helping draw maps.

That litigation ultimately forced the Legislature to redraw congressional and state Senate maps. Districts ordinarily are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. census.

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