Miami News

Racial gerrymandering trial ends; Mayor Francis Suarez proposes bold reform

Mayor Francis Suarez announces changes to voting map independent auditor amid racial gerrymandering trial

In the wake of a federal lawsuit challenging Miami's racially gerrymandered district map and facing financial scandals, Mayor Francis Suarez unveiled a comprehensive proposal for reform. This initiative aims to address issues raised in the trial while tackling broader concerns about government transparency and accountability.

The mayor's plan includes changes to the voting map, strengthening the mayor's powers, and introducing an independent auditor to scrutinize officials' financial disclosures.

Racial gerrymandering trial and verdict

Amid accusations that the City of Miami violated the U.S. Constitution through racial gerrymandering, a federal trial unfolded, spearheaded by local community groups such as Engage Miami and Grove Rights and Community Equity (GRACE). The trial alleged that the city's voting map intentionally divided neighborhoods along racial lines, concentrating Hispanic and Black voters into specific districts.

The proceedings included testimony from individual plaintiffs who asserted that the city's redistricting efforts were racially motivated, pointing to statements made by former Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla. He had expressed the goal of creating distinct districts based on residents' race rather than natural boundaries, a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Federal Judge K. Michael Moore, who had ruled ahead of the trial that the plaintiffs were likely to prove racial gerrymandering, ultimately declared the city's district map unconstitutional. In response to this ruling, the city presented a new map in June, yet the plaintiffs found it largely unchanged and contested its constitutionality. Despite Judge Moore's subsequent order to adopt a map drawn by community groups, the city successfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a controversial decision, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ruled in favor of the city, permitting the use of the contentious district map for the November election due to its proximity to the voting day. The racial gerrymandering trial thus concluded with lingering questions about the constitutionality of Miami's voting districts.

View the complete complaint here.

Mayor Francis Suarez giving a speech in downtown Miami.

Mayor Francis Suarez's comprehensive reform proposal

Amid financial scandals and the looming threat of a federal lawsuit, Mayor Francis Suarez outlined a comprehensive reform package during his annual address. Proposals include not only adjustments to the voting map but also revisiting the idea of a "strong mayor" form of government.

This proposal involves giving the mayor greater control over day-to-day municipal operations. While such attempts failed in 2018, Suarez aims to revive the concept. The mayor's plan also addresses election date changes to enhance voter participation, advocating for moving elections to even-numbered years.

Whether these proposals will gain support among city commissioners is uncertain, but recently elected Commissioner Damian Pardo expressed enthusiasm for the changes, emphasizing the need for comprehensive reform discussions through the upcoming Charter Review Committee.

Read more about the reforms in Miami Herald.

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