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Sarasota Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 7 months ago

Trial date set for redistricting suit

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A suit contending Sarasota County discriminated against black voters with redistricting map will be heard April 27.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

A trial date has been set for a federal lawsuit that contends Sarasota County’s redistricting map is discriminatory.

U.S. Judge William Jung ruled Tuesday that the lawsuit, which was filed by three African American residents of northern Sarasota County, will begin April 27.

The lawsuit accuses county commissioners Michael Moran, Alan Maio and Nancy Detert of “depriving thousands of African American voters living in the Newtown community of the right to vote in the 2020 election.”

The new redistricting map moves Sarasota’s Newtown neighborhood — and thousands of black voters — from District 1 into District 2, which means they won’t vote until 2022.

It also moves candidate Fredd Atkins from District 1, the seat of which is held by Moran, and is up for reelection in 2020.

During a December protest against the redistricting, Newtown resident Ruby Robinson said the county’s actions aren’t fair.

“This is high-class slavery,” Robinson said. “They took our voice to vote and with it our freedoms.”

The suit seeks to restore the residents’ right to vote in the 2020 elections. 

Although Jung set a trial date, he ruled that the three commissioners named as defendants in the lawsuit could not be individually sued. 

Because the commissioners have legislative privilege, they can’t be deposed by the plaintiffs for sworn statements.

In a January response to the lawsuit, attorneys for the county filed a motion that aimed to have the lawsuit dismissed.

The attorneys for the county argued that the plaintiffs have no facts to support a “plausible inference of racially discriminatory motivation” and that the complaint does not plausibly allege the commission’s predominant motive was racial.

The two sides will now head to trial, which is scheduled over five days. County officials said they don’t comment on active litigation. 

During the trial, Jung will consider the claims that the county’s actions violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Jung denied the claim that the county also violated a Florida Constitution amendment that prohibits drawing legislative districts to benefit an incumbent official.

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