As lawmakers meet in the Capitol to reshape state Senate districts thrown out in court, a bitter fight is brewing in a courthouse across the street that could change the shape of new districts for Congress all over Florida.
A coalition of voters groups and the state Democratic Party is suing to derail the Legislature’s new maps of congressional districts.
The result of the battle will have statewide ramifications because it will determine the shape of Florida’s 27 congressional districts, including that of Republican Mario Diaz Balart of Miami — which opponents say was drawn especially to improve Republican voting strength.
The battle could also determine the shape of Democrat Corrine Brown’s district, which now snakes across nine counties near Jacksonville.
Brown’s district, said Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, was delivered the “death knell” by a Florida Supreme Court ruling last week that for the first time applied the anti-gerrymandering rules that voters put in the state Constitution in 2010. The 5-2 ruling by the state’s high court referred specifically to state House and Senate districts, not to Congress. But the court, while validating the map for state House districts, rejected the Senate’s, raising doubts about much of the approach legislators used when drawing the congressional map.
Even though the court’s ruling gave legislators guidelines on how to draw districts, leaders of the Republican-led Legislature said Wednesday they believe their congressional map is legal and want the lawsuit delayed until after the election. “It is practically impossible to resolve this case in time for any remedy to be implemented for the impending elections,’’ lawyers for the Florida Senate wrote in a brief filed Monday in Leon circuit court.
The lawsuit by the Florida League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, claims that legislators violated the provisions of the new constitutional amendments against protecting incumbents. The suit claims lawmakers “intentionally” enhanced both Diaz Balart’s South Florida district and Republican Dan Webster’s Central Florida District, and accuses them of violating the requirement that districts be drawn compactly. The map, the suit cites in one example, “unnecessarily divides Tampa Bay.”
The Supreme Court addressed similar complaints by the voters’ coalition when it rejected the Senate map, and issued guidelines for fixes.
But legislators said Wednesday they don’t believe the flaws extend to their congressional map and they have no intention of retreating on it unless the court orders them to do so. Keep reading here.