U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown on Friday slammed the federal lawsuit against the state that is aimed at dismantling the meandering district that she represents. The plaintiffs in the case are Gainesville residents but they are being represented by two law firms with ties to the Democratic Party.
Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, represents a multi-county district that was first drawn in 1992, during a different era -- when the courts required that districts be drawn to maximize minority voting strength. Since then, Florida voters enacted a law requiring that districts be compact, preserve minority voting strength and prohibit any attempt to favor incumbents.
The plaintiffs allege that the district, which was endorsed by the NAACP, violates their federal right to equal protection because they allege that it packs black Democrats into the district in an attempt to make the adjoining districts more white and Republican. They describe the district as following a "serpentine route."
Brown, a 21-year incumbent, said in a statement that rejecting her district will set the clock back.
"Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls in 1871, a time span of 129 years,'' she wrote. "Overturning the current District 5 map would ignore an essential redistricting principle: maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts. Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district 'compactness' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts fragments minority communities across the state."
She acknowledged that her district, congressional District 5, "is essentially the same as the previous District 3, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court."
In addition to the federal lawsuit, the district is being challenge in circuit court in Florida by some of the same plaintiffs for violating the constitutional protections that prohibit legislators from favoring incumbents or political parties. Brown failed to mention, however, that the district upheld by the courts in the past was drawn prior to the enactment of the current constitutional amendments.
Here is Brown's full statement (her emphasis added):
As we celebrate the birthday of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., and the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we as a country and a people are not going back to the days of no representation for minorities.
Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls in 1871, a time span of 129 years. Overturning the current District 5 map would ignore an essential redistricting principle:maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts. Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district “compactness” while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts fragments minority communities across the state.
The current District 5 map is essentially the same as the previous District 3, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
For most of my adult life, there were no minority members of Congress elected from Florida and few African-Americans elected to the Florida House and Senate. That changed in 1992 when I was elected to Congress, together with Carrie Meek from Miami and Alcee Hastings from Ft. Lauderdale.
Yet to obtain this seat, I had to file a lawsuit. I fought for four African American seats in the courts, and in the end, we reached a compromise, and got three, based on the principles of the Voting Rights Act. So in 1993, after nearly 130 years, Congresswoman Carrie Meek of Miami, Congressman Alcee Hastings of Ft. Lauderdale, and I, a representative based out of Jacksonville, took office. It was the first time that the minority communities in the state were represented by people who truly understood them, who grew up in the same neighborhoods, attended the same churches and schools as they did. And I firmly believe that we can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a much deeper level, since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle with many of the same challenges and prejudices as they have during my lifetime.
“Today, our diverse state’s population is made up of 16% African Americans, and 21% Hispanics. Together, those figures make up over one third of Florida’s residents. To uphold the hard fought gains we have made, it is absolutely essential to incorporate the essence of the Voting Rights Act into the way in which the state of Florida’s political boundaries are divided. One critical part of the Voting Rights Act is that it strictly prohibits the fracturing of communities of minority voters into a variety of districts. This element of the Act is essential in our battle to maintain minority representation not just in the state of Florida, but across the entire nation.
The discussions concerning District 5 are not about me. Rather, it is about allowing minorities to have representation throughout our state, and to have the option to choose a representative of their choice. It is about giving those who went without a voice for 129 years a chance to be heard in the halls of Congress, and an opportunity to influence the decisions made by policy makers that directly affect them, their families, and their communities.