TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – House and Senate lawyers tore into the map a Leon County judge recommended the state use in the 2016 congressional elections, arguing that the Florida Supreme Court should instead go with one of three plans submitted by lawmakers.
The arguments were made on the eve of a special redistricting session, set to begin Monday, where the Legislature will try to draw state Senate boundaries that comply with the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” standards approved by voters in 2010.
Many of the lines of attack against the congressional plan approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis are similar to those used by the Legislature in a three-day hearing last month over which of seven proposed maps should be recommended to the Supreme Court. Lewis ultimately went with a plan submitted by a coalition of voting-rights organizations that includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida.
That process was made necessary after the Florida Supreme Court ruled in July that the congressional plan approved by the Legislature in 2012, and tweaked slightly in 2014, does not follow the Fair Districts standards.
In their filings Friday, lawyers for the two chambers blasted the plan for a variety of perceived flaws. The House zeroed in on the fact that the map was drawn by an employee of a Democratic consulting firm, though that consultant testified he didn’t improperly take political factors into account in drawing the districts.
Still, House attorneys said, that violates the standard of transparency that the Supreme Court set for the August special session dealing with the congressional maps, which collapsed without an agreement on the lines.
“The judicial imposition of districts drawn in a Los Angeles apartment — with no record and no discovery — would violate this State’s democratic values of public access, openness, and transparency,” the House lawyers wrote. “It would fully justify the Legislative Parties’ opposition to (Fair Districts) as a device intended to strip the Legislature of its constitutional authority, and undermine this Court’s efforts to combat the ‘entrenched’ practice of partisan manipulation in redistricting.”
The two legislative chambers also knocked the map for allegedly lowering the chances for Hispanic voters in Congressional District 26 to elect a candidate of their choice. The League of Women Voters and Common Cause concede that the Legislature followed the Supreme Court’s order to reunite the city of Homestead, which was split between two districts in the original plan.
But the voting-rights groups also say that the shift of territory between the two districts, required because all congressional districts must have the same population, was engineered to help Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo win re-election.
The Legislature contends that the swaps were made to make sure that Hispanic voters in Curbelo’s district can still influence the outcome of the election, because the Republican primary election would be controlled by Latinos and the general election would likely be a toss-up. Under the plan approved by Lewis, lawmakers say, the Democratic primary would not be heavily influenced by Hispanic voters and the Democratic candidate would likely win the election.
Instead of the map drawn by the voting-rights groups, the Legislature is pushing for one of the plans drawn before, during or after the special session. The House wants the court to use a “base map” drawn by legislative aides in the run-up to the session.
The Senate, meanwhile, has called for either a map drawn at the directions of Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, or Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. In the upper chamber’s filing with the court, its attorneys said that the Senate’s maps are superior and that no one has shown any evidence that Lee or Galvano did anything inappropriate.
“The Constitution imposes the duty to draw districts on the Legislature — that is, on the officials that voters elect to represent them and who are familiar with those areas,” lawyers for the Senate argued. “It does not impose that duty on unelected staff.”
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court agreed to reschedule oral arguments in the case for Nov. 10. Those arguments had originally been scheduled for Nov. 2, but the House had asked for a delay, saying that the hearing would conflict with the three-week session focused on the Senate districts, set to begin Monday and slated to run through Nov. 6.
The News Service of Florida’s Brandon Larrabee contributed to this report.