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Democrats offer court alternative congressional map, target Brown's district

Pointing to a Florida Supreme Court ruling that rejected the legislatively-drawn state Senate map, Florida Democrats on Monday filed an alternative congressional map in Leon County Circuit Court and urged the court to quickly reject the Legislature’s plan.

“This is what a constitutionally valid map looks like,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith in a statement. “The GOP, despite months of useless debate at an enormous cost to Florida taxpayers, has been unable to produce maps free of incumbent protection and partisan gerrymandering.”

The Democrat’s map focuses on making more compact the sprawling African American district now held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and in the process consolidates Orlando into two, instead of four districts. As if anticipating the assault on the district that now stretches over nine counties, Brown joined with Republican Congressman Mario Diaz Balart last year to challenge the Fair Districts amendment that resulted in the new anti-gerrymandering standards but the court rejected their argument.

The Democrat's plan also proposes keeping Hillsborough and Pinellas counties whole, rejecting the design sought by the Republican-led legislature that divides up both counties. The Democratic plan makes few changes, however, to the legislature’s proposals for South Florida.Download Romo Plaintiffs_ Motion for Summary Judgment[1]  Download Appendix.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Pro

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the challenge to the legislature’s congressional map during the week of April 16. The Democratic Party sued on behalf of several individual voters as did a coalition of voters groups, including the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza, and Common Cause of Florida. Lewis has consolidated the cases and said he has not decided whether or not he will rule on the maps now, or conduct a full hearing later in the year.

Lawyers for the Democratic Party argued that the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling “provided a road map for lower courts to follow when presented with a reapportionment challenge” and “with respect to the Florida Legislature’s 2012 Congressional Plan, that road map leads to only one plausible destination – invalidation of the Plan.”

Lawyers said that voter registration and election data show that the map "not only preserves the partisan bias ingrained in the 2002 plan -- which was drawn when there was no state constitutional prohibition on partisan gerrymandering -- it actually enhances that bias." For example, the map creates two new Republican congressional districts and, Democrats argue, if the 2008 presidential election were held with this map, President Barack Obama would have won only 10 of the 27 congressional districts.

"Despite the massive population growth requiring significant restructuring of districts, the 2012 Congressional Plan contains 18 districts that preserve more than 60% of the incumbents’ prior constituencies,'' the brief argues.

The congressional map not only protects incumbents and GOP influence, the Democrats also argue that the map fails the compactness test and violates the minority voting rights provisions by packing minorities into districts "diluting their opportunity to participate in the political process across the state.'' The Democrats allege that the Legislature's map was drawn so that only 58 percent of black Floridians would reside in a district that could elect a black while their alternative map increases the odds to 67 percent.

The lawyers argue that in addition to violating the new Fair Districts standards, the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act protections designed to protect minority voters. Among the claims, they arThey want the court to not only throw out the entire map but they point to several specific districts they want invalidated.

Among the defects, the Democrats said:

* District 5, the reconstituted version of Brown's district "not only remains a gerrymandered district, it becomes even worse. The unjustifiably contorted configuration of District 5 wreaks havoc on surrounding districts, in particular District 10, which was plainly drawn with an improper partisan intent." They argue that while the legislature's map packs blacks into District 5, their alternative "creates two such districts by dispersing black voters across the Orlando districts."

* Districts 13 and 14 in Tampa "also flout objective constitutional criteria purely for partisan gain, ignoring the natural boundary of Tampa Bay as well as city and county boundaries to achieve partisan ends."

“Our map complies with the law and the will of the people,’’ Smith said in his statement. “After watching this session it was clear the Republican-led Legislature would never produce a map that complied with Fair Districts -- so we did it ourselves.”