In what may be an attempt to keep the U.S. Justice Department at bay as Republicans challenge Florida's two new redistricting amendments, Gov. Rick Scott and his Secretary of State Kurt Browning have withdrawn a request to have the federal government clear the new amendments.
Federal law requires Florida to have its redistricting proposals cleared by the U. S. Department of Justice to make sure they do not dilute or diminish minority voting access under the federal Voting Rights Act. When voters approved the Fair District's Amendments 5 and 6 by 63 percent in November, they imposed new standards for legislators to follow when drawing district lines in 2012. Before Scott got into office, Florida's acting-Secretary of State Dawn Roberts submitted the new standards to the DOJ seeking approval of the new language.
In a Jan. 7 letter to the DOJ, the state has now withdrawn that request for review. Why? No telling, except there is a Republican-led lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the voter-approved amendments. Scott appointed Roberts' predecessor, Kurt Browning, to resume his role as secretary of state. During his brief stint away from the Secretary of State's job, Browning was chairman of the campaign to defeat Amendments 5 and 6.
Reached in Jacksonville, Scott didn't shed any light except to say that he's determined to be fair: "One of the things that we're looking at is the amendments that were passed, how they're going to be implemented. We want to make sure that with regard to redistricting, it's fair, it's the right way of doing it. So it's something I'm clearly focused on."
On Browning's role, he said: "My agents will do everything we can to make sure it's fairly done."
Fair Districts spokeswoman Jackie Lee called the decision to withdraw the request an attempt "to thwart the will of the overwhelming majority of Florida voters.'' The organization is now considering whether to sue the state to have the new standards reviewed by DOJ.
Whatever the result of the lawsuit, the redistricting plans will eventually have to go before the federal government and receive "pre-clearance" under the Voting Rights Act anyway.
-- Mike Bender and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report