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Florida Supreme Court validates redrawn Senate redistricting map

In a major victory for Florida's Republican-led Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday validated the redrawn map of the Florida Senate, allowing the boundaries to serve as the political borders for the next 10 years.

In its unanimous opinion, the court noted that the opponents to the Senate map, the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting groups including the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, "failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Florida's constitutional requirements."

But in two concurring opinions, Justices E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince, the court's black justices, and Justice Barbara Pariente each focused on the flaws remaining in the redistricting process. Perry and Quince dissented on the portion of the map that includes Volusia County, saying it ''splits the historically black Democratic community in Daytona Beach when it was feasible for it to be kept whole."

Pariente, the author of the March 9 opinion that invalidated the Senate's first map as "rife with indicators of improper intent" concurred with the majority but issued her own opinion pointing out what she considers major flaws in Florida's redistricting process.

Specifically, she believes the time constraints are unrealistic and the process by which legislators draw maps with an "intent" not to favor or incumbents or political parties is inherently conflicted and recommended the state establish an independent commission to do the work.

"If it is this Court‘s role to be the guardian of the constitution‘s intent, I believe that changes must be made to the process to ensure that the purpose of the amendment—to take politics out of the apportionment equation—can be fully realized,'' she wrote.

Pariente said the new Fair Districts amendments "engrafted new and expansive standards onto an old constitutional framework unsuited for such inquiry." She said the barriers now "appear to prevent the will of the voters from being fully realized."

"Because the Court‘s inquiry has greatly expanded with the passage of the Fair Districts Amendment, including an examination of legislative intent in drawing the district lines, the time limitations in our current constitutional framework are no longer suitable,'' Pariente wrote. "Working within a strict time period, this Court is realistically not able to remand for fact-finding, which creates concerns that are compounded by the fact that the Court is constrained to the legislative record that is provided to it."

She strongly urged the legislature and future Constitutional Revision Commissions to consider revising the time schedule that makes it impossible for the court to adequately analyze the maps in 30 days, forces the Legislature to refrain from completing its map before January and creates "unrealistic time constraits" to have the new boundaries drawn by the time candidates must file for election.

She pointed to other states, such as New Jersey, that start redrawing their maps as soon as they receive the decennial census data.

The ruling now sets the stage for candidates for both the House and Senate to proceed with the districts as law. The process is not complete, however. The U.S. Department of Justice must determine that the maps do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act requirements and protect minority voting rights in five counties with a history of discrimination: Monroe, Hendry, Hillsborough, Collier and Hardee.