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Court rules Legislature must testify in redistricting case

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that members of the state Legislature and their staffers must testify in a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and other groups. They are trying to prove that Republican lawmakers secretly worked to redraw district lines to favor incumbents in violation of the state Constitution's two "fair districts" amendments.

The 5-2 decision by Justice Barbara Pariente said the court has an obligation to balance constitutional protections of citizens against a legislative privilege or shield from being forced to testify as part of the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

"We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to prevent the discovery of relevant evidence necessary to vindicate the explicit state constitutional prohibition against unconstitutional partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent," Pariente wrote. "We therefore reject the Legislature’s argument that requiring the testimony of individual legislators and legislative staff members will have a 'chilling effect' among legislators in discussion and participation in the reapportionment process."

The plaintiffs had sought sworn testimony from Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who was Senate majority leader during the 2012 remapping of districts, as well as at least two legislative staffers.

The case is the League of Women Voters of Florida vs. Florida House of Representatives. Friday's decision quashed a previous ruling by the First District Court of Appeal, which held that legislators have an "absolute" privilege in such cases.

In a blistering dissent, Justice Charles Canady (joined by Chief Justice Ricky Polston) wrote: "For the first time in the recorded history of our Republic, a court has ruled that state legislators are required to submit to interrogation in a civil case concerning their legislative activities." Pariente's majority opinion forcefully rejected what she called Canady's "hyperbolic assertion."

A spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the Senate was still reviewing the decision and would not have any immediate comment.

-- Steve Bousquet

Comments

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tony smith

YES - we have a great Supreme Court!

Can't take anymore

Don't count on any of these arrogant politicians testifying about anything just yet. They are so entrenched in Tallahassee power politics they feel they are above the laws and the courts. If they lose the legal showdown they will certainly go all "Rick Scott" on those trying to question them by hiding behind the 5th Amendment and then refusing to testify.

Elinor R. Catsman

Hurray for the League of Women Voters and a handful of statesmen who are fighting the battle against Florida's devious and avaricious behavior. The electorate continues to note this well and will surely
vote accordingly in the upcoming election.

ed jenkins

As we have seen to much of our taxpayer's money has been wasted in various forms over the years by too many lawsuits. These people should be ashamed for wasting our money on trivial issues that only result from sore loser politicians and their political careers.

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