During his testimony, Kelly criticized past rulings by the Florida Supreme Court on redistricting and questioned the Legislature’s handling of the process. He also denied that the map supported by Governor DeSantis was drawn for partisan reasons or to benefit incumbents, which would violate anti-gerrymandering standards. In an exchange, Kelly claimed he had no knowledge that the redistricting plan would increase the percentage of white voters in certain districts. The ongoing federal trial is separate from a state court challenge but both center around the dismantled seat of Rep. Al Lawson. In the state case, a judge ruled that the redrawn district violates the state’s Constitution and ordered the Legislature to create a new map. The lawsuit in federal court aims to prove that Governor DeSantis’s actions were discriminatory.
The state court case, which includes the democracy advocacy group Common Cause and NAACP among the plaintiffs, had its scope narrowed before trial and focused on legal arguments rather than witness testimony. In the federal trial, the plaintiffs plan to bring in experts to discuss Florida’s history and whether Governor DeSantis’s actions were discriminatory. The focus of the case is DeSantis’s insertion into the redistricting process by offering his own maps and vetoing the Legislature’s initial proposal. DeSantis argued that Lawson’s old district violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause. However, when pressed in court, Kelly could not cite a court ruling that supported this argument. He also disagreed with the 2015 Florida Supreme Court decision establishing Lawson’s district, claiming the court got it wrong. This contradicted his previous statement that he had not read the ruling but believed the result was incorrect.
According to Kathay Feng of Common Cause, Kelly’s testimony revealed a struggle to explain the actions of the DeSantis administration. She criticized the administration for twisting facts, fabricating information, and denying historical context. The trial continues, with the plaintiffs aiming to prove that the governor’s actions were discriminatory and violated anti-gerrymandering standards. In the state court case, the ruling that the redrawn district is unconstitutional has been appealed and will be reviewed by a higher court.