TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) -The good news for Florida’s candidates is the US Justice Department gave approval Monday to Florida’s re-districted Congressional, House, and Senate maps, clearing the way for them to be used in the upcoming election. The bad news is that doesn’t stop lawsuits and challenges.
The preclearance does not halt a challenge to the state congressional districts under Florida’s anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards, and it doesn’t bar legal action against the maps under the federal Voting Rights Act.
In a two-paragraph letter dated Monday, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said Attorney General Eric Holder would not “interpose any objection” to the new maps created in the once-a-decade redistricting process. That is the agency’s boilerplate language for preclearance.
Normally, the Justice department would not be involved in the process, but under the Voting Rights Act, Florida must get Justice Department approval for any changes in elections laws affecting Monroe, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Collier counties because of a history of discrimination against racial or language minorities in those countries.
The approval from the federal government marks the second legal milestone the maps have passed in as many weeks. The Florida Supreme Court approved a second draft of the Senate map on Friday, after rejecting an earlier version in March. Justices approved the House map in the earlier decision, but have yet to hear any challenges to the congressional plan.
The decision allows county supervisors to move forward with planning for the November elections using the new maps. However, the congressional plans could still be blocked under the Fair Districts amendment dealing with lines for the state delegation.
Some Cuban-American lawmakers have threatened to file a lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act challenging the Legislature’s decision not to draw a fourth state Senate seat with a heavy Hispanic majority in Miami-Dade County. That legal action could move forward despite Monday’s decision by the Justice Department.
Unlike the state legislative maps, the congressional plans are not immediately sent to the Supreme Court for the justices’ approval. But a group of voters backed by the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting-rights groups has challenged the map in court; Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is expected to issue a ruling in that case soon.