A group of Alachua-based Republicans calling themselves the "Conservative Coalition for Free Speech and Association" filed a lawsuit in federal court Thursday challenging the Fair Districts amendments of the Florida Constitution as unconstitutional.
The group is suing Secretary of State Ken Detzner in an attempt to invalidate the anti-gerrymandering amendments approved by voters in 2010. Several members of the group have fought the release of their private emails in pending redistricting lawsuits, claiming it violates their First Amendment right to free speech and association.
Meanwhile, the release of a limited number of those documents showed that many of these individuals were engaged in what the court called a "shadow redistricting" process that aimed to influence the Legislature's drawing of its maps in a way that favored Republicans.
Led by Stafford Jones, head the Alachua Republican Executive Committee, the group echoed many of the complaints of Florida legislators in its lawsuit, and blasted the Florida Supreme Court for violating their First Amendment rights.
The court's 5-2 ruling invalidating the congressional map because it showed improper partisan intent was "overreaching,'' said Jones in a statement. The court "quite cynically, if not dangerously, redefined protected political free speech and the anonymous petitioning of government as a 'conspiracy'; a conspiracy to commit Democracy?"
According to documents filed in the current redistricting lawsuits challenging the congressional and state Senate maps, Jones and other members of the group involved in the lawsuit were instrumental in recruiting Republicans with scripted talking points to appear at the Legislature's public hearings across the state.
They also actively worked on and submitted Republican-leaning maps as part of the public submission process, pieces of which were included in the final versions of the maps adopted by lawmakers, court documents show.
This is the second lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Florida that attempts to invalidate the state Supreme Court's ruling. The district is believed to be most favorable to conservatives.
Documents obtained by the Herald/Times show that taxpayers have already spent $11 million in legal fees for the legislature's defense of its redistricting maps. The Democratic Party has used that to launch a campaign and distribute mailers targeting individual lawmakers for wasting taxpayer money.
Here's the press release and lawsuit: Download Federal_Complaint
A bipartisan group of Florida citizens have filed a federal lawsuit in Pensacola today, seeking to have declared unconstitutional §§ 20 and 21 of Article III of the Florida Constitution, commonly referred to as the “FairDistricts” Amendments, as they have been applied by Florida’s Supreme Court.
Stafford Jones, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, issued this statement:
“In their incredible wisdom, our Founding Fathers identified five inalienable rights that they deemed so fundamental, so critical to protect a free country and individual liberties, that they ensconced those five rights, together, in the very First Amendment of our Constitution. In doing so, our Constitution gives equal weight to the freedoms of Religion, Speech, the Press, Assembly and the Petitioning of Government.
"I take these rights, and privileges, seriously. I believe they apply EQUALLY to ALL citizens, of ALL political parties, and I have stood up time and again for that equal application, even when I don’t necessarily agree with others.
"As chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee one of my most important and sacred duties is to organize like-minded people to share their opinions and petition OUR government. Whether visibly or anonymously, this is an indisputable, inalienable right guaranteed to ALL citizens by the First Amendment of our Constitution.
"Yet, the extraordinarily over-reaching court opinions of Florida’s FairDistricts laws have quite cynically, if not dangerously, redefined protected political free speech and the anonymous petitioning of government as a "conspiracy"; a conspiracy to commit Democracy? Rather than encouraging citizen participation and oversight of OUR government, citizens and activists are in fear of organizing and petitioning OUR government. How could this happen in Florida? How could this happen anywhere in America?
"I will not stand idly by and simply allow this to happen. In order to restore the inalienable rights guaranteed to ALL citizens by our First Amendment, I have joined what I refer to as the "Fighting for Democracy" lawsuit filed today in the United State District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiffs in "Fighting for Democracy" include Democrat, Republican, African American, white, female and male citizens seeking to quash the antidemocratic actions of the Florida Supreme Court that have absconded with citizens' fundamental rights of Speech, Assembly and Petitioning Government.”