The Florida Legislature and the League of Women Voters squared off Thursday before the state Supreme Court as both sides continue an intense legal battle over the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that produced the Republican-crafted 2012 maps of state House and Senate districts.
House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, represented in court by former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, asked the state's highest court to block a lower court from holding a full-blown trial on claims by voting groups that lawmakers, consultants and party operatives schemed to draw districts to partisan advantage in violation of the two "fair districts" amendments to the state Constitution.
"The Constitution grants exclusive jurisdiction to the Supreme Court" on all redistricting matters, Cantero told reporters outside the courthouse. "We went through this very grueling process for several weeks last year and that's it until 2020 ... It's a close question and I'm confident they'll rule in our favor."
Miami lawyer Adam Schachter, representing the League of Women Voters and other groups, said the 2010 fair district amendments changed the Florida Constitution to prevent the Legislature from drawing districts that favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent. He said evidence already unearthed in the lower-court case, before Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, suggests the amendments were violated.
"The Florida voters passed these amendments to change the process," Schachter told the justices, "and allowing them access to the courts is the way to effectuate that change."
Internal emails on both sides of the partisan divide in redistricting show that Republicans and Democrats both privately sought to maximize their political advantages in the once-a-decade remapping of political boundaries. Republicans used private email accounts, held brainstorming sessions and set up personal "dropboxes," and a Democratic consultant wrote a 2011 email that said in part: Underlying goal is to increase the number of safe Democratic seats and the number of competitive seats."
During nearly an hour of oral arguments Thursday, the most animated justice was Charles Canady, a former Republican state legislator and member of Congress, who was openly skeptical of many of Schacter's arguments, and suggested that there has to be a finality to lawsuits challenging redistricting plans. "We can be litigating these redistricting plans over and over and over again for the next decade," Canady said.
-- Steve Bousquet