July 17, 2015

Fifteen Florida congressmen ask Legislature to hold statewide redistricting hearings

A bipartisan group of 15 Florida congressmen on Thursday asked the state's legislative leaders to conduct statewide hearings before redrawing the congressional maps which were ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court last week.

"We hope you agree that those directly affected by the Supreme Court's recent ruling in The League of Women Voters v. Detzner, et al., should have their views and opinions heard and considered in this important matter,'' the group wrote. "The opportunity to be heard is particularly important for African American and Latino communities whose representation and voting power will be impacted by redistricting.

"Anything less would be a travesty since the goal is fair representation for all of Florida's citizens."

Democratic U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alcee Hastings, Alan Grayson, Frederica Wilson, Kathy Castor, Lois Frankel and Debbie Wasserman Schultz joined Republican U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, Jeff Miller, John Mica, Mario Diaz Balart, Carlos Curbelo, Ander Crenshaw, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Daniel Webster in signing the letter.

The court ruled that the redistricting process was "tainted" by illegal partisan intent. It cited testimony and evidence at trial that, despite claims that the process was the most "transparent" on record, it allowed political operatives to orchestrate testimony at public hearings and file maps written by political consultants to benefit Republican incumbents. 

Here's the letter:  Download Congressional letter

July 13, 2015

The cost to Florida taxpayers for failed redistricting maps? $8.1 million, and counting

According to the latest tally by the Florida House and Senate, the cost to taxpayers for the Legislature's defense of the redistricting maps that the Florida Supreme Court ruled invalid last week is $8.1 million.

With a trial scheduled to begin in September over the challenge from Democrat-leaning voter groups to the state Senate map, the cost to the taxpayers is mounting. 

The House, which doesn't face a legal challenge to its own maps, has spent the most -- $4.2 million, through July 10. The Senate has spent $3.9 million -- so far.

What could that money be used for had lawmakers not relied on political operatives and illegally created a map with the intent to protect incumbents? It would be enough to pay $10,000 bonuses to 810 high-performing teachers. It's enough to pay the average hospital stay for 4,050 uninsured. It's even enough to expand the tax free back-to-school holiday another day. 

The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that eight of the 27 congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature violates the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and must be redrawn by Oct. 17. That means that at least 25 districts aligned next to them will likely have to be changed as well. 

Lawmakers are expected to announce this week the dates of the special session to redraw the new districts but, with so much at stake over the state now-challenge Senate maps, will they decide to save taxpayers the cost of defending them and revise the Senate maps as well? 

David King, the lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs in the case, notes that there are similarities between the way the Senate and congressional maps were adopted. 

"The Senate map and the congressional map are two different maps,'' he said during a conference call with reporters last week. "But they were enacted pursuant to pretty much that same procedure and they were impacted by the same political operatives who had the same partisan intent."

He concluded that the court's ruling on the Senate map "will be highly significant on the Senate case."

More to come.

July 09, 2015

Court rules 5-2 that Florida's congressional map was 'tainted' and orders redo

The Florida Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to Florida's political landscape Thursday, throwing out the state's carefully-crafted congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature and ordered a new map within 100 days.

In the historic 5-2 ruling, with Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissenting, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election. Download OP-SC14-1905_LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS_JULY09

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters,'' said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups which brought the challenge. "The Supreme Court accepted every challenge we made and ordered the Legislature to do it over.''

Continue reading "Court rules 5-2 that Florida's congressional map was 'tainted' and orders redo" »

June 29, 2015

Supreme Court rules that independent commissions can draw Congressional districts

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that an independent state commission can draw federal congressional districts.

The Arizona case related to an independent commission set up by a referendum in 2000. The commission was tasked with redrawing new lines and a new map in 2011 resulted in four safe GOP districts, two safe Democratic districts and three swing districts, according to NPR. The GOP-led Arizona Legislature sued.

In Florida, the Legislature draws the maps and has been involved in a series of legal challenges since the latest maps were adopted in 2012. In 2010, voters approved Fair District rules which were an attempt to block  partisan gerrymandering of political boundaries.

The League of Women Voters has an ongoing case before the Florida Supreme Court in which it has argued that the congressional maps should be rejected because they are the product of a shadowy process infiltrated by Republican political operatives in violation of the Fair District rules.

The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling over the next several weeks -- possibly as early as Thursday. We asked lawyers on both sides of that case what the Arizona decision means if anything for the Florida case.

 

Continue reading "Supreme Court rules that independent commissions can draw Congressional districts" »

May 12, 2015

Senate offers to spend $105k in taxpayer funds to defend individual senators in redistricting probe

Faced with subpoenas for information in a second redistricting lawsuit, the Florida Senate is offering to reimburse 21 senators up to $5000 to allow them to hire private lawyers to defend themselves in public records requests.

The $105,000 allocation is on top of the more than $1 million taxpayers are already paying to defend the Senate in redistricting challenges brought by the League of Women Voters, and a group of Democrat-allied citizens, which challenged the congressional plan and are awaiting trial on a lawsuit challenging the Senate map.

There are 8 Democrats and 13 Republicans who have been subpoenaed in the case and 28 districts are under dispute by the plaintiffs.

The trial is set for September in Leon County Circuit Court and and lawyers for the plaintiffs are asking for all documents, including emails and proposed maps, related to the Senate’s maps in the case.  

"It's curious that when we made public records requests for these documents they need to get lawyers,'' said David King, lawyer for the plaintiffs. 

The email correspondence has been pivotal to the plaintiffs in the case, after legislators testified in court last year that they destroyed correspondence relating to redistricting as part of their routine email purges. After the plaintiffs obtained email correspondence from political operatives, the trial court judge in the case concluded that political operatives had “infiltrated” the redistricting process with the intent to influence it to benefit Republicans.

The plaintiffs have requested the same documents from the Senate’s lawyers as they have asked from legislators individually, said Lisa Hall, spokeswoman for the coalition that is challenging the Senate map.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, a lawyer, said he has asked his law partner to represent him in the case. "I got nothing to hide about any of this,'' he said. "I had no conversations with any operatives…everything I’ve got on this is my emails that I would have sent to staff and people are welcome to see those."

Here’s the May 1 note from Senate general counsel George Levesque to the 21 senators: Download 2015 05 01_Memo re Legal Representation (2)

Continue reading "Senate offers to spend $105k in taxpayer funds to defend individual senators in redistricting probe" »

December 08, 2014

With Senate redistricting lawsuit pending, court releases disputed documents

The Florida Supreme Court on Monday thrust into the limelight yet another secret email that reveals the role of political consultants in the redistricting process that could have bearing on the pending lawsuit over Senate redistricting.

Tom Hofeller, of the Republican National Committee, wrote to Rich Heffley, a consultant to the Republican Party of Florida, which appeared to underscore the consultants' role in the redistricting process.

“Congratulations on guiding the Senate through the thicket," Hofeller wrote on April 27, 2012 after the Florida Supreme Court approved the disputed Senate maps. “Looks as if, so far, the Democrats have not realized the gains they think were [sic] going to get. Tom."

While the email won’t effect the congressional districts, which the Legislature revised and the courts have upheld, it could play a role in the pending lawsuit over Senate redistricting.

Heffley responded: “Thanks. Big win.” He then correctly predicted the Senate composition after the 2012 elections: “Worse case minus 2. 26-14.”

Lawyers for the voters groups obtained the email as the result of a subpoena in the now-completed lawsuit over congressional districts, in which they alleged that Republican political consultants conducted a "shadow" process to manipulate the redistricting maps in violation of the FairDistrict amendments to the Florida Constitution.

Continue reading "With Senate redistricting lawsuit pending, court releases disputed documents" »

November 23, 2014

GOP consultants' 'almost paranoid' mission to circumvent Fair Districts

@MarcACaputo @kmcgrory

The Republican consultants had to be hush-hush — “almost paranoid” in the words of one — because of their high-stakes mission: Get go-betweens to help circumvent a Florida Constitutional ban on gerrymandering.

The plot was spelled out in a newly released batch of once-secret emails that show how the consultants surreptitiously drew congressional and state legislative maps. They then recruited seemingly independent citizens to submit them in an effort to strengthen the hand of Florida Republicans when the GOP-led Legislature redrew lawmaker districts in 2011.

The year before, Florida voters overwhelmingly amended the state’s constitution to prohibit legislators from drawing legislative and congressional districts that favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties. Citing the new amendments, a coalition of voting-rights and liberal groups called the Fair Districts Coalition sued the Legislature over its maps.

The emails, under court seal until this weekend, played a key role in a recent court victory to force the Legislature to redraw some of Florida’s congressional districts. The correspondence will take center stage in a related case challenging the state Senate maps.

The emails also provide a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of how political players used secrecy and deception as they recruited third parties to submit maps, some of which were drawn by Gainesville-based Data Targeting firm, led by political player Pat Bainter.

“Want to echo Pat’s reminder about being incredibly careful and deliberative here, especially when working with people who are organizing other folks,” Data Targeting’s Matt Mitchell wrote in a Nov. 29, 2011 email. “Must be very smart in how we prep every single person we talk to about all of these. If you can think of a more secure and failsafe way to engage our people, please do it. Cannot be too redundant on that front.”

“Pat and I will probably sound almost paranoid on this over the next week, but it will be so much more worthwhile to be cautious,” Mitchell concluded.

Story here

Download Data Targeting emails

Groups ask Florida Supreme Court to impose a "meaningful remedy" to redistricting issues

The coalition challenging the Florida Legislature's 2012 redistricting plan has filed its initial appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The coalition, made up of individuals and voters rights groups, has been battling to have the maps thrown out, saying they violate Florida's constitutional ban on partisan gerrymandering.

In August, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Congressional map was indeed unconstitutional and ordered two districts to be redrawn. But the coalition says Lewis did not go far enough.

The trial court, the coalition said in a brief filed Friday, "erred by only requiring two districts to be redrawn, by allowing the Legislature to provide the remedy by quickly passing a new plan that is largely the same as the old plan, and then by deferring to the Legislature's decision to maintain an apportionment scheme that ensured continued Republican domination over an electorate evenly divided between the two political parties."

The groups argue that the plan as a whole "was motivated by unlawful partisan intent," and that seven districts remain unconstitutional.

The coalition is asking the court to invalidate the entire apportionment plan and impose a "meaningful remedy." 

More specifically, its members would like to see the high court formulate its own redistricting plan, approve one of the plans created by the coalition, or rely on a redistricting expert to prepare an entirely new plan.

Read the brief below. Note that parts involving sealed documents were redacted.

Download Redacted_brief

November 21, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court denies stay in Bainter case

The U.S. Supreme Court won't keep secret documents used in Florida's redistricting case out of the public eye.

Gainesville political consultant Pat Bainter had asked the high court to keep the documents sealed while he appeals a Florida Supreme Court ruling mandating their release. But Justice Clarence Thomas denied the request Friday.

The documents will be made public on Dec. 1.

The emails and trial transcripts were part of a legal challenge to the Florida Legislature’s 2012 redistricting plan. In that case, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Congressional map and said Republican consultants like Bainter had engaged in a "secret, organized campaign" to create gerrymandered districts.

Several voters rights groups asked for the documents to be unsealed. But Bainter has been fighting to keep them private, arguing that their release would both reveal trade secrets and violate his first First Amendment rights.

November 20, 2014

Florida Supreme Court grants 10-day stay for secret redistricting docs

The clock is running out on political consultant Pat Bainter.

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered the release of emails and trial transcripts used in the recent redistricting case -- documents Bainter considers private and has been battling to keep out of the public eye. 

Earlier this week, Bainter asked the court to keep the records sealed so he could appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

But Florida's high court is giving him just 10 days, according to an order issued Thursday. 

The order states that "no further stay will be granted."

"This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed, and the public's right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in a concurring opinion.

That means unless a further stay is granted by the U.S. Supreme Court, the records will be unsealed at 3 p.m. on Dec. 1.

In her opinion, Pariente seemed doubtful that the nation's high court would take the case.

"I fail to see any federal question as a basis for obtaining certiorari review in the Supreme Court" she wrote, adding that she had granted the 10-day stay "only out of deference to the United States Supreme Court."