August 14, 2015

Lawsuit plaintiffs send letter with possible legal argument against new congressional map


The League of Women Voters and Common Cause on Friday sent a letter to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner outlining what could make up the core of a legal argument against new congressional district maps being drawn this week and next in Tallahassee.

"We write to call your attention to the fact that we have questions about some choices made with regard to the proposed configuration of Congressional District ("CD") 26 and CD 27,” they wrote. “We ask you to examine those districts closely as they appear to have been drawn with partisan intent.”

Districts 26 and 27 are South Florida seats that currently split the city of Homestead in Miami-Dade. In its ruling overturning the congressional districts, the state Supreme Court instructed the Legislature to keep Homestead in one district, saying that the lines appeared to be drawn to ensure the 26th continued to be held by a Republican.

While a newly proposed map by the Republican-controlled House and Senate would put all of Homestead in District 26, it would add Democrat voters to the already very-blue District 27. This, argue League of Women Voters and Common Cause, would have the effect of giving the the GOP even more protection in District 26, currently represented by freshman U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican.

Continue reading "Lawsuit plaintiffs send letter with possible legal argument against new congressional map" »

August 13, 2015

Oliva: Court has overstepped its boundaries but 'they get the final word on it'

Jose OlivaWhile legislators may not like the map their staff has drafted, they're likely to be stuck with it because the Florida Supreme Court gets "the final word." 

That was the conclusion of House Reapportionment Committee Chairman Jose Oliva Thursday after the House passed its base map with no changes on a 9-4 vote.

Oliva repeated complaints held by many legislators that the Florida Supreme Court "overreached," when it imposed guidelines on how lawmakers should reconfigure eight of the 27 congressional districts it determined were flawed.

The court concluded that the Legislature's entire map was "tainted" by improper partisan political intent when House and Senate leaders allowed political operatives to draw maps and pieces of them were adopted by lawmakers in draft and final maps. 

Because that violated the ban on protecting incumbents and political parties, the court ruled that the burden of justifying the intent of the map had now shifted from the plaintiffs -- the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals -- to the defendants -- the Legislature. 

Oliva said that shifting that burden had gone too far, and violated the separation of powers doctrine, since many legislators in office today were not in office when the maps were passed. 

"To have ruled the maps unconstitutional as a result of that taint that you speak of would have been reasonable,'' he said. "The concern is as to how far they went and how that imposes itself on future legislatures...I guess the question is, does the punishment match the crime?

Oliva acknowledged that while lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are unhappy with the court's ruling, they cannot defy it. He ruled a proposal by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, out of order. Hill proposed rejecting the court ruling and adopting the current map that was ruled unconstitutional by the court. 

"The passion is fervent but it has to be well advised,'' Oliva said, in light of the court ruling. "...Being the highest court in the land they get the final word on it."

The map the House is likely to pass, drawn by three staffers in isolation with little input from legislators or the public, is the best solution, he said.

"Given the current structures that we have, and the time constraints, I believe we are working in the best interests of all parties,'' he said. 

House rejects attempt to adopt previous Palm Beach and Broward congressional alignment

Despite appeals by county officials and lawmakers from Palm Beach and Broward counties, the House Reapportionment Committee on Thursday rejected an amendment to the base map by Rep. David Kerner, D-West Palm Beach, that would reconfigure their congressional districts in a way that stretches across county borders, rather than in a more compact configuration. 

"We get one chance to amend these maps, we've got communities coming out and saying we want our maps to be shaped vertically,'' Kerner said. "...That's why I'm here today."

Kerner echoed the complaints of Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, that in the rush to adopt a new map, "there has to be room in this process for our constituents to have input,'' he said. He argued that the court did not strike down the districts based its lack of compactness but because of illegal partisan intent."

His amendment would have revised the proposed base map to reconfigure Districts 20 and 21 to align them in a vertical direction, exactly as proposed in the version rejected by the Florida Supreme Court last year. The base map instead consolidates the county in a way that makes it more compact. The amendment was rejected on a voice vote. 

Continue reading "House rejects attempt to adopt previous Palm Beach and Broward congressional alignment" »

August 11, 2015

Update: Brown's to file lawsuit over congressional map on Wednesday

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, said she would file a lawsuit on Wednesday urging the court "in an effort to keep Congressional District 5’s boundaries as they are currently." 

Brown has argued for weeks that the court’s directive to shift her district’s configuration will weaken the rights of black voters. Last week, she tried to use a pending lawsuit challenging the state's congressional map as her lever to bring down a proposed map moving through the Florida Legislature, claiming it will result in "minority vote dilution and hamper the ability of the state's minority residents to elect a candidate of choice."

But that opportunity expired Monday when the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, William Warinner and James Miller, asked the federal court in the Northern District of Florida to dismiss the case.  Download Warriner 2015-08-10 Notice of Voluntary Dismissal

The plaintiffs had complained that Brown's district, as drawn by the Florida Legislature, was "bizarrely shaped," an "unjustifiable concentration of African-American voters" and a violation of their equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment.  Download FL warinner 20140116 amd complaint

Last week, Brown filed a motion to intervene in the case, claiming that the "base maps" proposed by the Legislature will result in "minority vote dilution and hamper the ability of the state's minority residents to elect a candidate of choice."

Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano told the Herald/Times Tuesday that while legislators may disagree with the court’s order to draw an east-west map, they could pass it to comply with the state court and hope for a federal court to intervene.  

"We still have the potential of a federal claim with regard to the Voting Rights Act and the impact that could have,’’ he said. 

Stung by court ruling, legislators complain their rights are being violated

It was 101 degrees in the shade Monday afternoon when Florida legislators gaveled open a two-week special session to redraw — for the third time — the state’s congressional districts and, within minutes, it became apparent that hardly anyone wanted to be there.

The governor and his family had jetted off to Paris for a vacation. The Florida Supreme Court, which ordered lawmakers to redraw the map that forced the special session, was on its summer break. At least 10 of the state’s 40 senators and 17 of the 120 House members received permission to skip out, or come late, for the session.

House and Senate leaders announced that they disagreed with the court ruling that said the Republican-led redistricting process was “tainted” by illegal partisan intent but vowed to fix it as part of the “remedial” process laid out by the court.

“We continue to believe that we drew a constitutional map in 2012 and again in 2014,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, addressing the chamber in a 20-minute opening session. “Unfortunately, we are here today because the Supreme Court disagreed and ordered that eight districts be redrawn.”

Echoing the theme of a lawsuit filed last week in federal court by two Pensacola Republican Party officials, several lawmakers used their opening day speeches to accuse the court of violating the legislature’s First Amendment rights by requiring it to justify its map-drawing decisions in an open and transparent way.

“We are under direction by a court that continues, over and over again, to exceed their constitutional authority,” said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, after the House adjourned. “When one branch goes deep into other areas, the people lose. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

More here.

July 30, 2015

Legislature unlikely to add gambling to special session agenda

It is unlikely that the Florida Legislature will add any new discussion of extending a statewide gambling compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida when lawmakers meets in a special session in August to deal with Congressional redistricting, a key Senate leader said Thursday.

“It is very unlikely that we would expand the call to involve anything else, especially the compact,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton said.

Galvano, who led the original gambling compact negotiations in 2010 when he was in the House, said he’s going to advocate that the redistricting issue is simply too important and deserves the Legislature’s undivided attention.

On Friday, the state’s 5-year agreement with the Seminole Tribe that allows them to run blackjack and other table games at five of its casinos expires. In return for allowing the games, the state gets $1 billion, under the compact.

Under terms of the expiring compact, the Tribe would have to discontinue the lucrative card games within 90 days unless the Legislature agrees to extend the compact. In the spring, the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would have extended the compact for an additional year.

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July 25, 2015

Will the roadmap through Florida redistricting include revising Senate map early?

Crisafulli and GardinerLike the aftershocks of an earthquake, Florida legislators are feeling the tremors of the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling on their own districts — particularly in the state Senate.

Senators who thought they had comfortable re-election bids are now facing uncertainty as questions loom about whether the same factors that led the court to invalidate the congressional map will provoke judges to reject the Senate political boundaries, too. That would force the Legislature into another special session to redraw the Senate map and potentially make politically safe districts for many incumbents more competitive.

Legislative leaders are privately discussing whether to proactively redraw the Senate map before it is thrown out by a court or — in their worst-case scenario — redrawn by the court.

“One could say that since the court has returned the congressional maps to us twice, there is reason to believe a Senate map could be returned as well,” said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, who will head the House redistricting committee when lawmakers return in special session in August.

But, Oliva told the Herald/Times, “if any discussions are happening about the Senate maps, it’s happening between presiding officers.” House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, would not confirm that discussions are taking place.

More here.

July 21, 2015

Court sets Sept. 22-25 for review of Legislature's congressional redistricting map

From the News Service of Florida:

The Legislature and a coalition that successfully challenged the state's congressional districts have agreed to a schedule for a Leon County judge to determine whether lawmakers' second attempt to draw a map complies with the state Constitution.

The agreement, submitted to the Leon County circuit court late Tuesday, calls for a hearing on the new map to begin Sept. 22 and wrap up no later than Sept. 25. Leon County Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds III, who is in charge of a separate legal challenge to districts for the state Senate, had already set a Sept. 25 deadline for the end of the congressional case.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis --- who oversaw the initial challenge to the congressional map --- will also handle the second hearing. The case will ultimately return to the Florida Supreme Court, which struck down eight districts in a 5-2 ruling earlier this month.

Continue reading "Court sets Sept. 22-25 for review of Legislature's congressional redistricting map " »

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.