Plaintiffs in a lawsuit over the creation of new congressional districts are asking a federal judge to withdraw from the case because of his past representation of the Florida House in redistricting matters.
The groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now and five voters filed a motion on Tuesday seeking the disqualification of U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor from the lawsuit, who argues that a federal court should define Florida’s new congressional districts.
Winsor is one of three judges appointed to a panel to hear the case. The motion said Winsor, while an attorney in private practice, represented the Florida House on a series of redistricting issues from 2005 to 2013.
“Regardless of his ability to remain impartial, Judge Winsor’s prior efforts in this state’s redistricting processes raise legitimate questions about his role in this case,” plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a memorandum accompanying the motion. “For the avoidance of doubt and to preserve the perception of impartiality, the plaintiffs respectfully ask Judge Winsor to consider that reasonable citizens might question his impartiality in this case and recuse himself on this ground.”
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit March 11 in Tallahassee after Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would veto a congressional redistricting plan passed by the Legislative Assembly. The lawsuit argued that a standoff between DeSantis and lawmakers undermines the chances of reaching an agreement on a map – and that judges should step in to ensure revamped districts are defined ahead of this year’s election.
DeSantis vetoed the legislative plan on Tuesday and called a special session from April 19 to April 22 to approve a card as part of the once-a-decade redistribution process.
In another development Wednesday, plaintiffs dismissed Senate and House leaders as defendants in the lawsuit. It came after lawyers for the legislative leaders filed a motion on Tuesday seeking such a dismissal. DeSantis and Secretary of State Laurel Lee remain charged.
On March 14, William Pryor, Chief Judge of the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed Winsor, U.S. District Judge Mr. Casey Rodgers, and Appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan to handle the trial. Pryor wrote that federal law requires a three-judge panel in such situations, although the panel may decide later that it should not have been appointed.
Winsor became a federal judge in 2019 after an appointment by then-President Donald Trump. Previously, he served on the State Court of Appeals for the 1st District and as State Solicitor General and worked in private practice for the law firm GrayRobinson.
While at GrayRobinson, Winsor represented the House on issues related to the 2012 redistribution process and also in opposing the 2010 constitutional amendments known as the “Fair Districts” amendments, according to the plaintiffs’ memorandum filed. Tuesday. Voters approved the Fair Districts Amendments, which sought to reduce partisanship and gerrymandering in the redistricting process.
The Fair Districts amendments are part of the ongoing debate over congressional new lines, with DeSantis saying lawmakers have interpreted the amendments in a way that is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.
An online filing early Wednesday afternoon did not indicate whether Winsor would withdraw from the lawsuit.
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