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Legislature Makes Final Redistricting Argument

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Redistricting Map 2012 (Source: CBS4)

Redistricting Map 2012 (Source: CBS4)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – A coalition of voting-rights groups failed to prove during a recent trial that congressional districts drawn by lawmakers in 2012 violated constitutional standards for redistricting, according to a filing by attorneys for the Legislature.

The brief, released late Friday, amounts to a closing argument by the Legislature in the 12-day trial that ended last week. Opponents of the map filed arguments Wednesday and have an opportunity to respond next week to lawmakers’ final brief.

At the trial, the groups challenging the map, crafted as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process, tried to tie plans drawn by political consultants to the districts that were ultimately approved by the Legislature.

A connection between the two could prove that the districts violated the Fair Districts amendments, which were approved by voters in 2010 and bar lawmakers from drawing lines intended to hurt or harm political parties and candidates.

In the closing argument Friday, attorneys for the Legislature said the political consultants “sought out ways to appear relevant” even though they knew that lawmakers were not going to listen to them.

“But their efforts never merged with the map-drawing efforts of the Legislature, and the political consultants and the other members of the public, whatever their intent, never infected the sterile walls of the redistricting suites. … Those who drew the congressional plan, and those who voted to enact it, were driven by a strict desire to comply with the constitutional requirements and were never influenced by any partisan motivations of outside political consultants,” the brief states.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is weighing the challenge to the congressional districts, the first under the 2010 amendments. Lewis is expected to rule on the case sometime this summer, with appeals almost certain to follow.

The final decision on the congressional map will likely be made by the Florida Supreme Court.

In addition to what it says is a lack of evidence presented by the map’s opponents, the brief underscores the testimony of legislators and staff members who repeatedly said during their testimony that they didn’t get advice on how to draw the maps from political consultants.

“To accept plaintiffs? argument, this court would have to find that every single witness, including two speakers of the House of Representatives, a president of the Senate, and the legislative staff that drew the maps, lied under oath about their activities related to the drawing of the congressional map,” it says.

Lawyers for the Legislature also argued that the plaintiffs misrepresented some communications and meetings between political consultants and legislative staff, none of which proves that Republican operatives were able to influence the final plan.

And the brief downplays the importance of maps purportedly drawn by Alex Posada, a former Florida State University student. Posada later testified that he didn’t draw or submit a map that was entered into the Legislature’s public input system bearing his name.

This report is by Brandon Larrabee with The News Service of Florida.

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