December 03, 2015

Was the timing of the congressional redistricting ruling intended to influence the Senate trial?

CP1The Florida Supreme Court released its lengthy ruling validating the congressional redistricting map drawn by plaintiffs and approved by the trial court Wednesday, a day before the court routinely releases its opinions. So was the out-of-calendar release of the redistricting opinion  just convenience, or was it intended to send a message to the lawyers, and court, in the pending Senate redistricting trial?

The timing is important.

Friday is the day responses are due in the Senate redistricting case in which parties must specify their objections to the maps submitted. A pivotal issue in that case is the question of who shoulders the burden of proof to show whether the maps as submitted are drawn with partisan intent and the court's ruling addressed that issue at length.  Download Sc14-1905_Final_Opinion (1)

Meanwhile, depositions are underway. As the court released its opinion validating the lower court’s conclusion that the plaintiff's congressional map was not drawn with any attempt to favor or disfavor a political party, the principal mapdrawer for the challengers, John O'Neill, was being deposed in the Senate case.

O’Neill, a consultant with Strategic Telemetry, will be a key witness for the Senate as they try to show that the maps submitted by the plaintiffs – the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals – were drawn to favor Democrats in violation of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts rules of the state constitution.

The lawyers for the GOP-led House and Senate say that the four maps submitted drawn by O'Neill with consultation with another redistricting expert and they have ties to Democrats. They allege that the maps were designed to intentionally pack Republicans into districts in an effort to make adjacent Democratic seats more competitive for Democrats -- an allegation that has long been lodged against the GOP-drawn maps of the last 23 years.

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December 02, 2015

Reaction to Florida Supreme Court redistricting ruling

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami:

No matter how the lines are drawn Florida 26 will always be a competitive district deserving a representative with a strong track record of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done for ‎our community and the country. I have received a lot of support and positive feedback from the residents of Kendall, South Dade, and the Florida Keys during my first year in Congress, and I look forward to continuing my work on their behalf in the future.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

My love for South Florida knows no boundaries and every part of it is special to me. How can it not be when we live in paradise? I know it’s a humbling honor to represent our community and I’ll continue to work hard every day to continue to earn the trust so many have placed in me. I’m ready for the road ahead and hope South Floridians will join me in working to improve our home.


U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens:

To say that I am deeply disappointed by the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to approve the redistricting map drawn by the Fair Districts Coalition is a gross understatement. From the start, I strongly opposed the map known as CP-1 because it strips from District 24 several economic drivers and cultural attractions and threatens to return our community to its former status as the nation’s “most suffering” district. CP-1 removes from the district PortMiami, Bayside marketplace, AmericanAirlines Arena, Watson Island, Jungle Island/Parrot Island, and Bayfront Park, to name a few.

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Florida Supreme Court approves congressional map drawn by challengers

CP1

With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by a the challengers in time for the 2016 election.

“Our opinion today—the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment—should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,’’ the court wrote in a 5-2 decision.

The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session.

Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have already threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.

House and Senate redistricting leaders, who have spent more than $11 million in taxpayer money unsuccessfully defending their congressional and state Senate maps, said they disagreed with the ruling but were not surprised by it.

"The court has taken a process that was already difficult and through their significant overreach and lack of judicial restraint made it much worse,'' said Rep. Jose Oliva, chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He said the challengers and the court exhibited "blatant partisanship" and he looks forward to a federal challenge over allegations that the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

David King, lead attorney for the challengers, called the ruling “the culmination” of years of effort and “millions of dollars” spent by the plaintiffs.

"We simply followed the constitution. We drew a map that followed the constitution, and now the Supreme Court has verified that,'' King told reporters. He said the plaintiffs are seeking to recover their attorneys fees under a law that allows the state to pay the legal costs borne by a private party that wins a verdict benefiting the entire state.

“If there’s ever been a case where the government should pay for litigation which has resulted in great benefit to the citizens of Florida, it would be this case," he said.

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December 01, 2015

Judge warns redistricting challengers that their maps could be 'contaminated too'

Judge ReynoldsLeon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds warned the challengers in the Senate redistricting case Tuesday that they will have to show that the maps they have submitted were not tainted by improper partisan intent, as they are accusing the Senate leadership of doing. 

"You should be held to virtually the same standard out of fairness,'' Reynolds told the lawyers for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause at a 30-minute scheduling hearing in preparation for the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14.

The two groups have sued the Legislature along with a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters for violating the anti-gerrymandering standards of the state constitution when they drew the 2012 map. 

The lawyers for the GOP-led House and Senate say that the four maps submitted by the plaintiffs were drawn by a redistricting consultant with ties to Democrats and were designed to intentionally pack Republicans into districts.

Based on the results of the 2014 presidential election, the Legislature says the plaintiff maps give Democrats a 21-19 advantage in the Senate. Other analyses suggest that the plaintiffs' four proposed maps each create a 20-20 partisan split as Republicans retain the advantage because of incumbency and money. 

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Senate wants to call Braynon and Clemens and LWV's Ellen Freiden as redistricting witnesses

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The Florida Senate's lawyers could call Democrat Sens. Oscar Braynon and Jeff Clemens and Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano to the witness stand in the upcoming redistricting trail, adding three senators to the list of seven already proposed by the challengers in documents submitted Monday to the court. 

The Senate's lawyers said it might call Braynon of Miami Gardens and Clemens of Lake Worth as witnesses in the five-day trial that begins Dec. 14 in Leon County Circuit Court. Each had submitted maps they said they had drawn during the redistricting session that ended last month. 

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution, and Galvano, the Bradenton Repubican who headed the Senate's redistricting effort for the last year.

They also said they may call Ellen Freiden, the Miami lawyer for the League of Women Voters whose Fair Districts crusade helped to put the anti-gerrymandering rules into the Florida Constitution.

"Ms. Freidin will testify about alternative maps submitted to the Legislature and the Florida Supreme Court and alternative maps submitted in this case, including the goals, process, and objectives of their creation, and all facts relevant to an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent in any alternative map,'' the Senate wrote. "Ms. Freidin will also testify about her efforts to influence the legislative redistricting process."

More likely to be called, the witness list said, is a list of experts lined by the Senate, including Stephen Hodge of the Florida Resources and Environmental Analysis Center at Florida State University and an unnamed "corporate representative" for Strategic Telemetry, Massachusetts-based company that hired John O'Neill to help the coalition plaintiffs in the lawsuit draw their proposed maps.

"The Corporate Representative of Strategic Telemetry Inc. will testify about John O’Neill’s participation in the creation of redistricting plans in 2011 and 2012,'' the witness list said. 

November 30, 2015

Florida senators who could go under oath for redistricting trial include Flores, Diaz de la Portilla

Senate Witness listTwo Miami senators and a long list of Republican political operatives join Senate President Andy Gardiner and Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano as potential witnesses in the week-long Senate redistricting trial that begins Dec. 14.

Sen. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, both Miami Republicans, may be questioned under oath about the origins and development of the staff-drawn base maps approved by the Senate and submitted tp the court by Gardiner, R-Orlando, according to a lengthy witness list filed Monday with the court by the coalition of voting groups.

Also on the potential witness list are Republican Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and Tom Lee of Brandon and House Redistricting Committee Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. The plaintiffs list only Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a witness who will definitely be called. 

A five-day trial is scheduled before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds and the plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida, say they will show that the map proposed by the Senate was rife with attempts to protect incumbents, in violation of the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the state constitution. 

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November 27, 2015

Both sides now accuse the other of conspiring for political gain in Senate redistricting

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The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” trying to advantage Democrats.

The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,’’ wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.

But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.

The sparring legal briefs, filed late in the evening on Wednesday, offer a glimpse into the arguments in the Senate redistricting trial scheduled Dec. 14-18, before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds.

Lawmakers tried and failed to adopt a Senate map for the 2016 elections during a three-week special session that ended early this month so the job was handed to Reynolds who has asked each side to present alternative maps.

The coalition named the incumbents they believed were protected by the proposed Senate map -- from Miami Sens. Anitere Flores and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, to Panhandle Sen. Greg Evers and Rep. Matt Gaetz -- and said the Legislature failed to enact a Senate map during its special session “because of partisanship, self-interest, and palace intrigue,’’ a reference to the Republican infighting over the future Senate presidency.

The Senate proposal was submitted to the court by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate redistricting chairman Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as a combination of two staff-drawn maps but it was never voted upon by the Senate.

The plaintiffs argued that the Legislature ordered staff to draw six “base” maps but never told them to “correct – or even consider – the constitutional defects identified by Plaintiffs” in the map the Senate had previously agreed had been illegally gerrymandered.

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November 24, 2015

Redistricting challengers abandon Senate maps that do not cross Tampa Bay

Screen shot 2015-11-24 at 10.32.10 AMIn an effort to "narrow the issues for trial," the challengers to the Senate's redistricting efforts on Tuesday withdrew two maps that contained a black majority district that do not cross Tampa Bay and made two changes in North Florida.

The challengers, a coalition of individuals and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters, had argued that the Legislature should have updated its voting data to include the primaries of 2012 and 2014 which would have helped to show the strength of black voting performance in the districts.

They presented the Legislature with a map that was based on the primary data, but it was rejected by the House and Senate as inaccurate and incomplete. 

David King, the lead lawyer for the group, and his legal team have concluded that the argument is not worth the fight as they prepare for a trial before Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds Dec. 14-18.

He wrote in the motion filed Monday hat "although there is a likelihood that the Hillsborough-only district would retain African Americans’ ability to elect candidates of choice, Plaintiffs will rely only on their alternative version of District 19 that crosses Tampa Bay in CPS-3a, CPS-3b, CPS-4a, and CPS-4b, in order to narrow the issues for trial and ensure that African Americans retain their ability to elect candidates of choice.'' 

The withdrawn maps are CPS-2a and CPS-2b (see above.) King also submitted a corrected version of CPS-3b, which is the same map submitted to the Legislature and the court last week," except that Districts 1 and 2 have been replaced to exactly match the versions of Districts 1 and 2 in the other Alternative Remedial Senate Plans,'' he wrote.

Regardless of the configuration of Tampa Bay, all of the maps produced by the plaintiffs include 20 districts in which the majority voted for Republican Mitt Romney for president in 2012 and 20 districts in which the majority voted for Democrat Barack Obama. There is no guarantee that those districts will perform that way in Senate races but all the proposed maps pose a threat to the GOP's 26-14 majority in the Senate, which was elected with the now-invalidated map of 2012. 

This post has been updated to include that the maps withdrawn did not cross Tampa Bay. 

November 19, 2015

Will lawmakers try a quickie special session for Senate map submitted to court?

CPS2aAs the life size chess match that is Florida redistricting keeps playing out the next question is, will there be another special session?

The challengers have submitted six new maps and, based on preliminary analysis, it's clear their plans all draw 20 districts that favor Democrats and 20 that favor Republicans. (see pdfs below)

Meanwhile, Senate President Andy Gardiner said Thursday he choose to submit to the court a single Senate map, with pieces of two "base maps" that were drawn by staff, because "it's all recorded."

"For me, you go with base maps because you have a record – it’s all recorded, at least on the Senate side -- and it’s a Senate product,'' Gardiner told the Herald/Times when we caught up with him outside the Senate Republican office.

So what's the next move? At least three Republican senators are scheduled to be deposed by the lawyers for the challengers, the Herald/Times has learned -- Sens. Bill Galvano, Tom Lee and Jack Latvala.

Meanwhile, one option being discussed is to call a quickie special session to give the imprimatur of legislative approval to the Senate map when lawmakers convene for committee week Nov. 30. That would give them time to get a legislatively-approved map before the redistricting trial begins Dec. 14.

"I haven't thought that far,'' said Gardiner, R-Orlando, when asked by the Herald/Times. "I’m thinking turkey and getting the deep fryer ready."

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Coalition offers judge six variations for Miami and Tampa in new Senate maps

Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds was handed seven options for drawing the Senate maps on Wednesday, giving him the opportunity to be the “seamstress” he suggested might be needed to stitch together various pieces of the proposals.

Six of the proposed maps come from challengers to the lawsuit, a coalition of voters and voting groups led by the League of Women Voters. Each of their proposals is a modification of what they presented to Florida Senate during the special redistricting session that ended two weeks ago but the variations offer the judge a menu of options to two district areas: Miami Dade County and Tampa Bay.

The variations between the maps boil down to whether they create a fourth Hispanic district in Miami Dade County, or leave it at three, and whether they cross Tampa Bay to create an African American-majority district in Hillsborough.

Three of the coalition maps create a fourth Hispanic-majority districts in Miami Dade County while three create only three Hispanic-majority seats. Three of the maps cross Tampa Bay to create the black-majority seat while three do not.  Download 2015 11-18 Plfs' Not-Service of Remedial Senate Plans

Reynolds has the job of trying to sort them out during a five-day trial Dec. 14-18. He said in an emergency hearing last week that he might consider putting together pieces of different maps like “a good seamstress.”  

The House refrained from offering a map, relying on what it told the court last week --  that it would defer to the Senate to draw a map that rearranges the Senate’s political boundaries.

By contrast, the Senate leaders, upon the advice its attorneys, decided to create a new configuration, piecing together pieces of two different maps drawn by staff, including the bulk of one that was adopted by the full Senate.

But Senate leaders rejected the configuration for Miami that was voted upon by the Senate on a 22-18 vote, and instead chose a different version that was drawn by the staff as base map 9080. More here on that.

Here's how the coalition options break down:

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