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Legislators come loaded with ammunition against the court in redistricting hearing

Florida Republicans took off the gloves Tuesday in the first of two public hearings to discuss the redistricting map, accusing the Florida Supreme Court of “embedding” a map drawn by Democratic “partisan operatives” into their ruling and suggesting that if they adopt the court’s recommendations, they “investigate” the people who filed the lawsuit that forced the redrawn map. 

“How does the court come in here to run roughshod over the legislature?” asked Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, adding that the process has caused him “heartburn.”

Stung by the court ruling that ordered that eight congressional districts be drawn because the map was “tainted by improper partisan intent,’’ the legislature’s lawyers spent the morning advising that legislators had no choice but to adopt a map proposed that creates an east-west district across north Florida that would favor the election of a black to Congress. 

George Meros, lawyer for the House, and former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, lawyer for the Senate, specifically suggested they adopt the alternative Congressional District 5, proposed by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, two of the plaintiffs who sued lawmakers. The district now stretches from Jacksonville to north of Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, R-Jacksonville.

“We believe the most prudent thing to do is to have that as a safe harbor and have the east-west configuration in there,’’ Meros said, adding he “believes that the east-west configuration of CD5 is required.”

Meros and Cantero were the lead lawyers advising the House and Senate in the maps court twice determined were flawed.

They emphasized Tuesday that the court appeared to expect the Legislature to adopt the maps proposed by the plaintiffs despite the fact that evidence showed that plaintiffs consulted with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the U.S. House, a New York Congressman Steve Israel

“We’re pretty sure where they came from and the court told the court in our brief,’’ Cantero told legislators. “…the court didn’t seem to care.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, raised concerns that the court directive to make specific requirements for drawing the map was akin to operating in a partisan manner, as legislators were accused of doing. 

“If the Florida Supreme Court is basically drawing a map and they know that the map was drawn by partisan Democratic operatives, how are the justices complying with the Constitution?,'' he asked

Cantero sidestepped the question. Noting that he is likely to be back before the justices defending the new map, he replied: “I don’t want to make them mad.” 

Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, suggested that if they adopt the east-west district for CD5, they should "investigate" the plaintiffs and "inquire if there was intent to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party." Meros agreed that would be appropriate. 

Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Senate Democratic leader, dismissed the complaints of her Republican colleagues as "politics -- everyone wants to protect their own territory. That's how we got into this mess."

"Reasonable people can disagree about judicial policy,'' she said, noting that the saber rattling could be because the Fair Districts amendments that prevent illegal gerrymandering may force them to have the congressional map more reflective of the state's demographics.

"There are more Democrats in Florida than Republicans,'' she said, but the congressional delegation includes 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats. "That's hardly parity."

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