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.