The Florida Supreme Court is Goldilocks in the redistricting saga that comes before it on Tuesday as lawyers for the House, the Senate and a coalition of voters groups try to persuade the panel in robes that their map is "just right" for the 2016 elections.
They all want the Baby Bear treatment.
The House, which took the Papa Bear approach and adopted a map drawn by staff following rigid rules and no exceptions, will try to say that its map is best. The Senate, which welcomed the input of its members like a more lenient Mama Bear, will say one of its two maps is best. And the junior player in the group -- the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause -- wants the court to follow the lead of the lower court and pick its map which blended the maps from lawmakers with a new configuration in South Florida.
Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis's Oct. 9 ruling adopted the bulk of the House and Senate maps in the northern and central portions of the state but rejected the proposed boundaries for District 26 in Miami-Dade County, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, and accepted the configuration drawn by the challengers.
It's uncharted ground for both the court and the parties but the ruling will carry new weight that could influence the outcome of the redistricting trial scheduled for December when the court recommends a state Senate map. It's high stakes for everyone and, unlike Goldilocks, we don't expect the court to be sleeping.
The map recommended by Lewis throws at least three incumbent congressional candidates in much more competitive districts and Miami Dade, once again is at the heart of the dispute. In addition to Curbelo, the ruling could mean new boundaries for Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and it shuffles the landscape for Congress in the central and northern parts of the state.
Lewis concluded that he did “not find from the evidence that the staff map drawers had a conscious intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.” But he said “I remain convinced” the best way to determine if there had been improper partisan intent was to explore the reasons for drawing districts that comply with the other standards, such as geographical compactness.
To that point, he criticized the “very minimalist approach” lawmakers used to rectify the flaws in Miami-Dade’s Districts 26 and 27 as something that “does concern me.”
In its July 9 ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to keep the city of Homestead whole, and the Legislature’s solution was to create a district that performed better for Republicans by removing the black communities of Richmond Heights, Palmetto Estates and West Perrine from District 26 into the neighboring District 27, now held by Ros-Lehtinen.
The House and Senate argued that the only way to avoid reducing the ability of Hispanics to elect their own candidate was to leave the district more Republican-leaning as they have proposed. But Lewis rejected that argument, noting that “Hispanics have consistently elected the candidate of their choice” in the region.
He also rejected Florida International University Professor Dario Moreno’s testimony that the district as proposed by the challengers will “lock out” Hispanic voters.
“His testimony was long on pure opinion based on experience and short on systematic, scientific analysis of accepted statistical data,” Lewis wrote.
Meanwhile, we await what the court will do with the Senate maps. A hearing before Judge George Reynolds is scheduled for Tuesday and both sides have accused the other of manipulating the process.