« Mitt Romney is fundraising in Miami's Fontainebleau | Main | Lawmakers give Miami a break on Marlins stadium garages property taxes »

Senate lawyers want court to wait to decide congressional maps until after election

Fresh off the heels of a major defeat in the Florida Supreme Court, lawyers for the Florida Senate are asking the court to wait until after the November elections to hear a challenge to the congressional redistricting maps that were built using the same principles the high court has already rejected.

"...under a reasonable schedule, it is practically impossible to resolve this case in time for any remedy to be implemented for the impending elections,'' wrote lawyers for the Florida Senate in a scheduling brief filed Monday in Leon County Circuit Court. Download Senate's memo re Litigation

By contrast, lawyers for the League of Women Voters, the Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, who filed the challenge to the maps, want the court to move quickly in resolving their claim and postpone filing dates if necessary.

They argue that if the court allows elections to go forward under the proposed districts, the court will guarantee that "all florida voters will suffer the irreparable harm of the election of members of Congress from districts that violate the Florida Constitution" and would be "a profound rewriting of the voters' intent." Download Memorandum of Law Regarding the Court's Powers and Responsibilities in Adjudicating A Challenge to a Congressional Reapportionment Plan

Legislators scheduled the regular legislative session two months early this year to accelerate the redistricting process but, rather than have the maps ready for a vote in the first week, the House and Senate waited until February to pass their final versions and send them to the governor for approval. They dismissed critics who claimed they were moving too slowly.

Now, Senate lawyers cite the "impossibly short time period before the first election under the new districts." They note that in 2002, "none of the three challenges to Florida's new districts was decided before the 2002 primary elections" and that if the court rejects the map "there is not time for a remedy to be implemented for the 2012 Elections."

But things are a bit different than the were in 2002. For one, the state now must apply new redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010. The Florida Supreme Court ruled on March 9 that the Senate map drawn this year failed to comply with those standards so lawmakers are returning on Wednesday for a two-week special session on redistricting.

Another difference, the Florida Supreme Court detailed a series of guidelines for writing redistricting maps that the House and Senate didn't have when they wrote their congressional maps. The court commended the House for including political data using a "functional analysis" that determined how minority districts would perform when it drew its House maps. The congressional map, however, was  a blend of the House approach and the rejected Senate approach.

So should legislators pull back their congressional maps and rewrite them to match the court guidelines when they meet in special session starting this week?

"We absolutely defend our maps and we feel very confident they will be upheld just like the House map,'' said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, the House redistricting committee chairman on Friday He also acknowledged the congressional maps were a compromise between the House and Senate approach.

Is it a waste of taxpayer money to pursue the congressional maps given the court's new guidance. "Absolutely not,'' he said.

Another difference between today and 2002: ten years ago the challenge to the congressional maps were made in federal court and involved adherence to federal voting rights laws. This year, a state court must decide if the congressional maps comply with the new state redistricting standards approved by state voters.

In its March 9 ruling rejecting the state Senate maps, the Florida Supreme Court concluded 5-2 that waiting for a trial court to sort out the issues would be "an abdication" of the court's responsibility and noted that "the right to elect representatives -- and the process by which we do so -- is the very bedrock of our democracy."