LEAGUE APPLAUDS FLORIDA SUPREME COURT FAIR DISTRICTS RULING

“It has been a long hard, battle against devious, political scheming, but today the Florida Supreme Court handed the people of Florida a total victory, forcing the redrawing of every one of the eight districts that we contested in the lawsuit,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, part of the coalition that filed suit to have the districts redrawn because of gerrymandering.”Not only must the legislature act speedily and hold a special session to redraw, what could prove to be nearly every congressional district in the state, but the Florida Supreme Court is leaving nothing to chance — the court will have final approval on the redrawn districts.”

“The League will be watching this process closely to make sure our lawmakers operate in complete sunshine with one hundred percent transparency. Today, the Florida Supreme Court took the Florida Legislature to the woodshed. Their egregious behavior using partisan political operatives in the redistricting process was appropriately reprimanded. We commend our court system, our legal system and the hard work of citizens of Florida for making today a victory for the voice of the people,” Goodman concluded.

Florida Supreme Court orders new congressional map with eight districts to be redrawn


 

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to Florida's political landscape Thursday, throwing out the state's carefully crafted congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature and ordering a new map within 100 days.

In the historic 5-2 ruling, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of an unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election.

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters," said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups which brought the challenge. "The Supreme Court accepted every challenge we made and ordered the Legislature to do it over.''

The new maps are likely to reconfigure nearly all of the state's 27 congressional districts, open the door to new candidates, and threaten incumbents, who will now face a new set of boundary lines and constituents close to the 2016 election.

The most significant change came in the North Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. The court ordered District 5, originally drawn by a federal court in 1992 and which extends from Jacksonville to Orlando, must be redrawn in an east-west direction, potentially making room for a minority-access district in the Orlando area.

The court also ordered revisions to South Florida Districts 25, 26 and 27, currently held by Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. In the Tampa Bay area, the court ordered the redrawing of District 13, currently held by Republican David Jolly, and the 14th, held by Democrat Kathy Castor.

Writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente said the court affirmed "the trial court's factual findings and ultimate determination that the redistricting process and resulting map were 'taint(ed)' by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

But the justices reversed the trial court's order approving the Legislature's revised redistricting plan "because we conclude that, as a result of legal errors, the trial court failed to give the proper effect to its finding of unconstitutional intent, which mandated a more meaningful remedy commensurate with the constitutional violations it found."

The court concluded however, that the plantiffs didn't show enough evidence to support revisions to the whole map but ordered changes to eight districts "and other districts affected by the redrawing."

The court also ordered the Legislature to turn over all documents related to the redrawn maps and urged lawmakers to refrain from conducting secret meetings and "consider making all decisions on the redrawn map in public view."

In siding with a coalition of Democrat-backed voter groups, the court majority concluded that lawmakers violated the Fair District amendments to the Florida Constitution. The amendments were approved in 2010 by more than 63 percent of voters - over the objections of the Republican-controlled Legislature - to prohibit lawmakers from intentionally drawing districts that favor incumbents or political parties.

The court gave the Legislature 100 days to meet in special session to complete a new map, and ordered the trial court to issue an order that opens the door for it to review the final product. House and Senate leaders have not responded to the ruling.

The victory was long-fought for the plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of voter groups including Common Cause and the League of Women Voter who worked to get the amendments added to the constitution and tried and failed to get the lower court to redraw the entire map.

"This has been a long, hard battle against what has been unbelievable devious political scheming and egregious behavior of our politicians,"' said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

The new rules not only created new standards but forced a trial that revealed that the once-a-decade process of redrawing political boundaries that had been touted by legislators as "historic" and "transparent" was clouded in secrecy.

In addition to resetting the political landscape, the ruling could put incumbents at greater risk than is normal in a mid-decade election, said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida and an expert on redistricting, because any shift in district boundaries gives them less time to appeal to new constituents.

"In a typical redistricting cycle, the redistricting happens well over a year prior to the next congressional elections and that gives incumbents a lot of time to do things they can claim credit for,'' McDonald told the Times/Herald.

"All they can do is spend campaign dollars,'' McDonald said. "They can't do other things to endear themselves to constituents."

Last summer, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis concluded that political operatives had worked to "hijack" the state's redistricting process and tainted the map with "improper partisan intent." But rather than reject the entire map, Lewis ordered two districts to be redrawn - District 5, a snake-shaped district that stretches from Orlando to Jacksonville and is held by Brown, a Democrat, and District 10, an Orlando-based district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

In 12 pages, the Supreme Court recounted in detail the trial court evidence that revealed the depth of the relationships between the partisan political operatives and the legislative leaders - even noting how GOP consultant Marc Reichelderfer lived near former House Speaker Dean Cannon and how "their families spent time together, Reichelderfer saw Cannon on the weekends."

The court commended Lewis' finding that the maps were "tainted by unconstitutional intent" to benefit Republicans and incumbents but disagreed with his legal reasoning for limiting the fix to two districts and leaving the rest, because the Legislature no longer deserved to be given any deference.

"After reaching the conclusion that the 'redistricting process' and the 'resulting map' had been 'taint(ed)' by unconstitutional intent, the burden should have shifted to the Legislature to justify its decisions, and no deference should have been afforded to the Legislature's decisions regarding the drawing of the districts," the court wrote.

The Legislature held a special session last August to make the changes. Plaintiffs appealed, asking the Florida Supreme Court to reject the map and approve an alternate proposed by the plaintiffs.

The ruling renewed the racial tensions that have coursed through the Florida's redistricting battle for decades.

Brown blasted the decision as "seriously flawed" and a potential violation of the federal Voting Rights Act. She repeated the claims of lawyers for the Legislature and the NAACP who said that dissolving her district would divide black communities and perpetuate the racially polarized voting that in the past has prohibited African-Americans from electing representatives of their choice.

"As a people, African-Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly not taking any steps backwards," she said in a statement.

King said that Brown has a right to challenge the ruling in federal court but hoped she wouldn't.

"The court makes it abundantly clear the new configuration will be an ability for the district to election a minority candidate,"' he said.

The ruling establishes a new legal standard for what has already a history-making process. During the precedent-setting trial, reporters and the public were removed from the courtroom and the live television stream was shut off to allow political operative Pat Bainter to testify for three hours.

GOP political consultant Frank Terraferma and other political operatives testified how proposed maps with shadowy names such as "Sputnik," "Schmedloff" and "Frankenstein" were created and then secretly shared during the months legislative staff were also drawing maps.

For the first time in state history, sitting legislators were called to testify and they admitted to routinely deleting redistricting records. A legislative staffer admitted to giving a flash drive of maps to a GOP political operative two weeks before they became public. Phone records of a House speaker and his right hand man, sought for more than a year, were never produced. And legislative leaders acknowledged they met secretly with their staff and political operatives to discuss strategy.

The maps drawn by political consultants closely mirrored those submitted under the name of a former Florida State University student Alex Posada, who denied being associated with the redistricting process. Plaintiffs argued that was proof that GOP consultants had orchestrated a "shadow" system to infiltrate the redistricting process.

The congressional maps were first challenged in 2012, the year they adopted by the Florida Legislature.

The plaintiffs filed a second lawsuit this year, challenging the Senate maps, also drawn in 2012. Oral arguments in that case have been scheduled for September in the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial District in Leon County.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@MiamiHerald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

Districts ordered redrawn

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that legislators must go back to the drawing board for eight of the state's 27 congressional districts:

* District 5, held by Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville

* District 13, held by Rep. David Jolly, R-Tampa

* District 14, held by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

* District 21, held by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton

* District 22, held by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach

* District 25, held by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami

* District 26, held by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami

* District 27, held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

State Supreme Court ruling shakes up Florida's political landscape

By Mary Ellen KlasCharlie Frago and Steve Contorno, Times/Herald Staff Writers


 

The Florida Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to Florida's political landscape Thursday, throwing out the state's carefully crafted congressional districts drawn by the GOP-led Legislature and ordering a new map within 100 days.

In the historic 5-2 ruling, the court not only ruled the maps were the product of an unconstitutional political gerrymandering, it signaled its deep distrust of lawmakers and provided detailed instructions on how to repair the flawed map in time for the 2016 election.

Writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente said the court found that the initial maps drawn by state lawmakers "were tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters," said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters and the coalition of voter groups that brought the challenge.

The new maps are likely to reconfigure nearly all of the state's 27 congressional districts, open the door to new candidates, and threaten incumbents, leaving no part of Florida untouched by Thursday's decision.

Repercussions will be widely felt in Tampa Bay, where the court ordered a redo for District 13, which is now held by Republican David Jolly, and District 14, which is now held by Democrat Kathy Castor.

Both districts, the court mandated, "must be redrawn to avoid crossing Tampa Bay," spurring a rush of maneuvering among potential congressional candidates on both sides of the bay moments after the decision.

A new Democratic star, U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, might be in trouble with a redrawn district, potentially forcing her into the U.S. Senate race. In South Florida, U.S. Reps. Ted Deutsch and Lois Frankel might end up in the same district.

The most significant change came in the North Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. The court ordered District 5, originally drawn by a federal court in 1992 and which extends from Jacksonville to Orlando, redrawn in an east-west direction, potentially making room for a minority-access district in the Orlando area, endangering a seat now occupied by Republican Dan Webster.

The court also ordered revisions to South Florida districts 25, 26 and 27, currently held by Republican U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The ruling puts incumbents at greater risk than normal in a mid-decade election, said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida and a redistricting expert, because any shift in district boundaries gives them less time to appeal to new constituents.

"All they can do is spend campaign dollars," McDonald said. "They can't do other things to endear themselves to constituents."

But until the actual maps are redrawn, it's not clear who the winners and losers will be. The court ruled that state lawmakers have to redraw the maps within 100 days.

The decision is a victory for the plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of voter groups and the League of Women Voters, who tried and failed to get the lower court to redraw the entire map because of violations to the Fair District amendments to the state Constitution.

"This has been a long, hard battle against what has been unbelievable devious political scheming and egregious behavior of our politicians,"' said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

In Tampa Bay, it's expected that lawmakers will draw new boundaries for District 13 that will include a swath of Democratic voters in the southern neighborhoods of St. Petersburg who are currently represented by Castor.

That anticipated influx of Democrats into District 13, which now covers north and western St. Petersburg, has already spurred speculation that Jolly would then jump in to the U.S. Senate race for Marco Rubio's seat.

Jolly's campaign manager, Sarah Bascom, said Thursday that the congressman hadn't made a decision about the Senate race. She didn't answer a question about when he might decide.

The lone announced Democrat in the 13th District, Eric Lynn, said he was excited by the ruling. He touted fundraising (more than $400,000 so far) and political support that he has garnered in the past few months.

"The lines of this district may change, but the contours of this race remain the same," Lynn said in a statement.

Meanwhile, plenty of other Democrats have started to eye the race. Former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern, who plans to move to St. Petersburg, remains a likely contender. On Thursday, two Pinellas political heavyweights, County Commissioner Ken Welch and state Rep. Dwight Dudley, expressed interest.

"I'm absolutely going to take a look at it," Welch said. He said he would do his "due diligence" on a possible run over the next few months.

Lynn's political adviser, Bill Burton, said his candidate will be hard to dislodge, citing his big fundraising lead.

"He starts with a pretty big head of steam here," said Burton, a former adviser to President Barack Obama. "Had the court ruled this way months ago we'd be looking at a different situation."

In Hillsborough County, Republicans were rejoicing at the possibility of a likely more conservative voter base for District 14, which covers parts of Hillsborough and southern St. Petersburg.

"For a long time we have felt that District 14 was not fairly drawn and it did not represent the people in the district so we are very pleased that it will be more contiguous," Deborah Tamargo, chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Republican Party.

Castor, now in her fifth term, said she agreed with the court ruling in a statement. She touted her "bipartisan support of her friends and neighbors" and announced that she would report around $800,000 in campaign cash on hand when reports are filed next week.

"Shifting district lines will only sharpen my focus," Castor said.

Castor has sailed to re-election since first winning her congressional race in 2006. But Tamargo expects some of Castor's more recent opponents, such as Evelio Otero Jr. and Mike Prendergast, might have interest again were the district to turn a lighter shade of blue. Still, it would be an upward battle in 2016 with a presidential election.

For his part, Otero said he is watching closely to see how the district is drawn.

"If they ask me, I would have to sit down and listen to folks and make a realistic decision," Otero said.

Times staff writers Adam C. Smith and Tony Marrero contributed to this report.

Congressional District 13, Florida

Total population: 699,288

Republican: 175,882

Democratic: 164,999

No party affiliation: 108,018

Male: 334,806

Female: 364,482

Median Age: 48.0

65 years and older: 164,138

White: 601,901

Black or African-American: 42,592

Hispanic or Latino (any race): 62,811

Dutch: 8,072

Civilian veterans: 66,585

Congressional District 14, Florida

Total population; 733,381

Republican: 103,153

Democrat: 210,010

No party affiliation: 100,396

Male: 352,663

Female: 380,718

Median age: 35.6

65 years and older: 91,773

White: 467,325

Black or African-American: 185,821

Hispanic or Latino (any race): 207,085

Dutch: 6,358

Civilian veterans: 47,468

State Supreme Court strikes down congressional districts

Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE -A bitterly divided Florida Supreme Court threw out eight congressional districts Thursday in a long-awaited ruling, ordering the Legislature to redraw the lines within the next 100 days.

The 5-2 decision, which featured a split between the court's more-liberal majority and its conservative minority, will likely force lawmakers to return to Tallahassee for their third session of the year. It also marked the second time that justices had tossed out a map drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature as part of the 2012 redistricting process.

In an opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the majority found that Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis was correct to find that the congressional map approved as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process was corrupted by the efforts of Republican political consultants - violating an anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" constitutional amendment voters approved in 2010.

But Pariente argued that Lewis was essentially too timid in his ruling and that he deferred to lawmakers too much when deciding which districts should and shouldn't be thrown out and how drastic any changes should be.

"To do so is to offer a presumption of constitutionality to decisions that have been found to have been influenced by unconstitutional considerations," Pariente said. "The existence of unconstitutional partisan intent is contrary to the very purpose of the Fair Districts Amendment and to this court's pronouncements regarding the state constitutional prohibition on partisan political gerrymandering."

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince joined Pariente's decision. Justice R. Fred Lewis agreed with the outcome of the case, but didn't sign onto the reasoning in the ruling.

Last year, Terry Lewis invalidated two districts, which lawmakers redrew with limited impact on other congressional seats. Those districts are represented by Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Daniel Webster. But Thursday's opinion not only once again struck down Brown's Congressional District 5, it also ordered lawmakers to redraw the borders for seven other seats. The cascading changes could affect many of the state's 27 congressional districts.

"Today, the Florida Supreme Court took the Florida Legislature to the woodshed," said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which led the legal fight against the districts. "Their egregious behavior using partisan political operatives in the redistricting process was appropriately reprimanded."

The ruling also laid bare the tension in the court surrounding the heavily litigated redistricting process. In a cutting dissent, Justice Charles Canady blasted the majority for usurping lawmakers' traditional role in drawing districts.

"This decision causes serious damage to our constitutional structure," Canady, a former lawmaker, wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Ricky Polston. "The proper functioning of the judicial process is deformed and the separation of powers is breached in an unprecedented manner. Since 2012, this court's decisions concerning the redistricting process have been characterized by a repeated rewriting of the rules."

That in turn drew unusually sharp rejoinders from Pariente, who called Canady's criticisms "extravagant" and suggested he wanted the court to abdicate its responsibility.

"Far from upending the law, then, our legal analysis today adheres to our recent redistricting precedents," she wrote. "The dissent, to the contrary, continues its refusal to acknowledge the import of the Fair Districts Amendment."

One of the most controversial parts of the ruling could be its requirement that the Legislature redraw Brown's district, which winds through several counties as it runs from Jacksonville to Orlando.

Many Democrats have long complained that the district includes far more black voters than is necessary to give those voters the opportunity to elect their preferred candidate. The effect is to make other districts in Northeast and Central Florida more Republican than they otherwise would be.

But the decision, which will likely result in a district running from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, could cause problems for freshman Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham by removing many of the voters who helped Graham win her 2014 race in a swing district that includes the Tallahassee and Panama City areas.

And Brown, who has been a consistent critic of the Fair Districts effort, blasted the ruling.

"The decision by the Florida state Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters," Brown said in a lengthy statement issued by her office. " ... As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards."

Justices also ordered lawmakers to redraw Districts 13 and 14 "to avoid crossing Tampa Bay." That could endanger Republican Congressman David Jolly, whose district would likely absorb more Democratic parts of Pinellas County as Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor's district would be pushed out of the county.

The court also found fault with the districts of South Florida Democrats Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel and Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on a variety of grounds.

Republican legislative leaders were largely silent on the maps. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said through spokespersons that they were reviewing the ruling.

But Democrats could barely conceal their delight at the result, coming on the heels of a special budget session sparked by a bitter fight within the GOP over how to handle health-care spending.

"This is the second time in two months that the Florida GOP will have to return to Tallahassee to clean up an unconstitutional mess of their own creation," said Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux. "I hope Republicans put aside their petty self-interest and - for once -respect the voice of Florida's voters."

Cotterell's quick take

It's unusual to see Florida Supreme Court justices take shots at each other like this, but today's Florida ruling on congressional districting has a nice bit of sniping.

The majority sharply notes the harsh words of the dissenters, which included a "barrage of epithets" including such terms as "fallacious, fabricated, extreme distortion, revolutionary deformation, teeming with judicial overreaching, creatively cobbled, aggressive invasion, aberrant decision and unprecedented incursions."

Justice Barbara Pariente writes, "of course, we categorically reject the dissent's many derisive criticisms" - and then adds in a footnote, "Perhaps we should take solace in not being accused of 'jiggery-pokery.'"

That, of course, was Justice Antonin Sacalia's term in dissenting on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last month on Obamacare.

Maybe it's good that all the justices are taking some time off now.

- Bill Cotterell, Democrat correspondent

Editorial: On redistricting: Try, try again

Court strikes blow for voter-approved amendments


Published: Friday, July 10, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 9, 2015 at 7:30 p.m.

The Florida Supreme Court has overwhelmingly upheld a trial court's ruling that the Florida Legislature's congressional reapportionment plan violated the state constitution's prohibition against using "partisan intent."

The 5-2 ruling provided a clear, strong defense of the Fair Districts Amendments approved in 2010 by 63 percent of voters statewide - including 66 percent in Sarasota County and 60 percent in Manatee. The opinion is also notable because it expanded the trial court's ruling and will send the Legislature back to the drawing board.

The amendments forbid the Legislature from creating redistricting plans or individual districts with the "intent to favor of disfavor a political party or an incumbent."

Last year, a state-court judge concluded that the Legislature violated the amendment governing districts for the U.S. House of Representatives. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found that Republican operatives secretly influenced the map drawing and that key legislators participated in private meetings to discuss redistricting. Lewis questioned why many relevant emails and documents had been deleted - even though it was apparent that the records could be evidence in court.

At the time of his ruling, Lewis ordered the Legislature to redraw two of the 27 new congressional districts, which occurred before the 2014 elections.

On Thursday, the state's high court went further, taking a cue from Ron Popeil, the infomercial king: But wait, there's more!

The court determined that the partisan intent of the Legislature undermined the 2012 redistricting plan "as a whole." The ruling stated: "We thus conclude that the appropriate remedy at this juncture is to require the Legislature to redraw the map, based on the directions set forth by this court."

The justices did not technically require the Legislature to redraw the entire map. The court instructed the Legislature to redo eight districts - four represented by Republicans, four by Democrats.

District 16, which includes all of Sarasota County and nearly all of Manatee, was not among the eight. Neither was District 17, which covers part of eastern Manatee. The Supreme Court recognized, though, that districts adjacent to those to be redrawn could be affected. That is a concern because Districts 13 and 14, which will be redone, are directly north of Manatee County; we hope the new maps will not affect District 16, which is compact and serves the Manatee-Sarasota region well.

As we have recognized, the 2012 redistricting process improved upon past efforts. But, in light of the Legislature's defiance of the constitutional amendment, it's encouraging that the Supreme Court set guidelines and parameters for the next round.

For example, the court encouraged the Legislature to "conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation." The court said the Legislature should provide a mechanism for public debate on proposals for alternative maps submitted by the public. Additionally, the court said the Legislature should preserve all emails and documents related to the redrawing of the map - it shouldn't take a court declaration for those things to happen - and to "publicly document the justifications for its chosen configurations."

The Legislature would be well advised to follow the court's directions. There is a movement in Florida and nationwide for states to amend their constitutions to allow independent commissions to perform redistricting. The U.S. Supreme Court recently found that practice constitutional in Arizona.

It's true, as the Florida high court wrote, that redistricting efforts in 2002 and in previous years were rife with partisanship and incumbent protectionism. But, as parents tell their children, just because everyone else is doing it, that doesn't mean it's right. Plus, as the latest ruling emphasized, such actions are plainly unconstitutional.

Florida Supreme Court Orders Redrawing of Districts

The court orders eight districts be redrawn, affecting 14 bordering districts

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.-The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the state's congressional maps don't meet the requirements of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits political lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or a political party. The court ordered the Legislature to try drawing the maps again.

The ruling means there could be an upheaval as incumbents seek re-election and candidates from both parties seek to fill open seats. Florida has 27 congressional districts and the ruling could affect 22 of them. The court ordered eight districts be redrawn, but in doing so, 14 districts that border those eight might also have to be changed. The court told the Legislature to act swiftly since qualifying for congressional races is approaching.

The ruling chastised the Republican-led Legislature not only for working with political operatives to violate the constitution to benefit the GOP, but also for making important decisions behind closed doors and destroying documents and deleting emails when they knew the maps would be challenged in court.

"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny," the ruling said.

The court questioned whether the full extent of the political maneuver was exposed in the case.

"Since many of the e-mails were deleted or destroyed, we still may have only a partial picture of the behind-the-scenes political tactics," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the majority in the 5-2 opinion. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

The court recommended the Legislature make all of its decisions in public when it redraws the maps and to save all emails and documents related to the effort.

The Legislature will have to have the new maps ready by October, which will require a special session to approve them. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner were reviewing the decision and neither planned to comment on it Thursday.

Florida has 17 Republican U.S. House members and 10 Democrats despite Democrats having an advantage in voter registration. The state has 4.6 million Democrats and 4.2 million Republicans.

The ruling will affect districts held by Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel and Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and David Jolly.

Ms. Brown, whose long, narrow, oddly shaped district is often used as the most obvious case of a gerrymandered district, criticized the opinion. Her district is designed to contain a majority of African-Americans.

"Minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter-like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district 'compactness,' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state," she said in a statement emailed by her office.

A coalition that included the League of Women Voters challenged the lines, saying Republicans who drew them up ignored the new constitutional requirements approved by voters in 2010. A lower court agreed that GOP leaders and operatives made a mockery of the amendment, but only ordered two central Florida districts be redrawn. The Supreme Court said that wasn't good enough.

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair Districts Amendment," said David King, a lawyer for the coalition. "The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated. We look forward to the Legislature following the constitution and the directives of the court."

-Copyright 2015 Associated Press

Florida Supreme Court strikes down congressional district map

. By John Kennedy - Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau


 

TALLAHASSEE -

The political boundaries of districts held by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel and Ted Deutch, both Palm Beach County Democrats, are among eight congressional seats the Florida Supreme Court ordered redrawn Thursday in a sweeping ruling.

The 5-2 decision marks the second time in two years that the congressional map crafted by the Republican-controlled Legislature was found in violation of voter-approved constitutional standards that prohibit drawing district lines to help incumbents or a political party.

Justices gave lawmakers 100 days - until Oct. 17 - to convene a special session to rework the map so it can be ready for next year's elections.

And while only eight districts were singled out in violation by the court, the rewrite may force changes across another 14 neighboring districts in the state, including Palm Beach County's other two districts, held by Democratic Reps. Alcee Hastings and Patrick Murphy. As a result, 22 of the state's 27 congressional districts could be affected by Thursday's ruling.

Redistricting expert Michael McDonald of the University of Florida said, "The consequences of this ruling are tremendous. This really is chaos."

Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which was among the plaintiffs in the case, praised justices for showing that "our democratic system is not broken."

"The Supreme Court took the Legislature to the woodshed," added Goodman, of Palm Beach Gardens, whose organization was joined by Florida Common Cause and several Democratic voters in challenging the congressional plan.

The league also is leading a coalition of voters' groups that claim state Senate district boundaries are similarly unconstitutional. That case is slated for trial in Leon County in September.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said they were reviewing Thursday's decision and would not immediately comment.

The eight districts targeted by justices include four held by Democrats and four by Republicans.

The Democrats are Frankel of West Palm Beach, Deutch of Boca Raton, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Kathy Castor of Tampa. Republicans are Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo, all of Miami, and David Jolly, from the St. Petersburg area.

"Florida's congressional maps and redistricting are in the hands of the state Legislature," said Erin Hale, a spokeswoman for Frankel. "The congresswoman is working hard to serve the residents of Palm Beach and Broward County. This Supreme Court decision will not change her focus on her constituents."

Brown, whose district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, could undergo the most dramatic change.

Justices said her north-south district, with a sizable minority population, "must" be reconfigured to stretch east-to-west, from Jacksonville toward Tallahassee.

Voters' groups challenging the congressional map say the current contours of Brown's District 5 dilutes Democratic voting strength across Central Florida.

By packing minority voters into Brown's boundaries, plaintiffs made the argument to justices that adjacent districts tend to vote Republican.

Brown was angered by the justices' ruling.

"Minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter-like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district 'compactness,' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state," Brown said.

During 12 days of testimony in a trial last year, email and other evidence showed that during the Legislature's redrawing of districts in 2012, Republican Party consultants were given preview looks at proposed boundaries from legislative staffers and possibly managed to have GOP-favoring maps they crafted secretly submitted at public hearings.

Legislators and staff also admitted to deleting critical email and taking part in closed-door redistricting meetings with top Republican Party officials in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.

The judge in the trial, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, called the Republican effort a "mockery" of the once-a-decade redistricting process and the so-called Fair Districts amendments approved by voters in 2010, and he ordered the congressional map redrawn but in more limited way than the justices ordered Thursday.

Lewis' order invalidating the 2012 map said districts held by Brown and Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, were drawn to help Florida Republicans. That prompted the Legislature to meet in special session last summer to redraw the boundaries of Brown and Webster's districts, along with five nearby districts in North and Central Florida.

Lewis endorsed that rewrite but allowed the 2012 map to still be used in the 2014 elections since the August primaries were fast-approaching.

Justices ruled that Lewis' remedy didn't go far enough. They also acknowledged that the full scope of the Republican backroom deal-making may not be known.

"Since many of the e-mails were deleted or destroyed, we still may have only a partial picture of the behind-the-scenes political tactics," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the majority in the 5-2 opinion. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

The majority also gave lawmakers toughly worded directions to make all their decisions in public when it redraws the map this time, saving all emails and documents generated.

David King, attorney for the voters' coalition, called Thursday's ruling a "great victory. A complete victory."

"The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated," he added. "We look forward to the legislature following the constitution and the directives of the court."

Florida justices order new congressional districts for 2016


By Lloyd Dunkelberger , Herald-Tribune

/ Thursday, July 9, 2015

TALLAHASSEE -- In a landmark ruling that could change the way congressional and legislative district lines are drawn in the nation's third-largest state, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday ordered state lawmakers to redraw boundaries for eight of Florida's 27 congressional districts.

The ruling has the potential to shift some of the boundaries of two Southwest Florida congressman: U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, and Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee.

In a strongly worded 5-2 opinion, which went to great lengths to underscore the secret role that political consultants played in influencing the 2012 redistricting process, the Supreme Court justices upheld a trial court's finding that the prior districts had violated the "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments passed by

voters in 2010 that ban partisan line drawing.

The ruling is significant because it is the first time the state's highest court has offered its interpretation of the role that the Fair Districts amendments play in shaping boundaries for Florida's congressional delegation as well as the 160 seats in the state Legislature.

In the majority opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente cited the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling - which upheld the use of an independent commission in Arizona to draw political lines - as similar to the effort by Florida voters "to address the problem of partisan gerrymandering, the drawing of legislative district lines to subordinate adherents of one political party and entrench a rival party in power."

But while the court upheld Circuit Judge Terry Lewis' finding that the 2012 congressional map was "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents," the justices said Lewis did not go far enough in ordering only two congressional districts be redrawn last year.

"The trial court failed to give the proper effect to its findings of unconstitutional intent, which mandate a more meaningful remedy commensurate with the constitutional violations it found," Pariente wrote.

The court ordered the Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts, including four districts held by Democrats: U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton.

Four districts held by Republicans also will have to be reconfigured: U.S. Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, Carlos Curbelo of Miami and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But redrawing those districts will have an impact on adjacent districts, meaning many districts will be changed, although some more heavily than others. The current congressional delegation is controlled 17-10 by the Republicans.

Special session planned

The court has given lawmakers 100 days to complete the task, with a procedure where the House and Senate will redraw the congressional lines and the map will return to Lewis' court for review.

The timetable means another special session is imminent for lawmakers, who left Tallahassee in mid-June after a 19-day special session to pass a new state budget.

After Lewis' initial ruling, the Legislature met last August in a special session to redraw the congressional district lines, focusing on two districts, one held by Brown and the other held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando. The new map, which was used in the 2014 congressional elections, also impacted seven other districts.

The Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause Florida and other advocates had argued the revised map did not go far enough and still violated the Fair Districts amendments. That coalition appealed Lewis' decision to the Supreme Court.

The coalition had asked for the entire congressional map to be rejected, but the opinion limited the changes to the eight districts, while noting adjacent districts would be impacted.

Justice Charles Canady wrote a strongly worded dissent, supported by Justice Ricky Polston, accusing the majority of overstepping its role as an appellate court in deciding to order lawmakers to redraw eight congressional districts and offering specific guidelines.

"This decision causes serious damage to our constitutional structure," Canady wrote. "The proper functioning of the judicial process is deformed and the separation of powers is breached in an unprecedented manner."

Even with the opinion, redistricting will remain a complicated and controversial topic, with many lawmakers, political consultants and others still trying to parse the meaning of the 130-page opinion.

Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said the party was reviewing the opinion and "its impact on Florida's congressional districts."

"However, one thing is crystal clear: Florida's highest court has found Tallahassee Republicans guilty of unconstitutionally subverting Florida's democracy," Arceneaux said.

The most contentious issue remains Corrine Brown's Congressional District 5, a serpentine configuration that includes many African-American communities running from Jacksonville through Gainesville south to Orlando.

The Supreme Court has ordered that north-south district to be changed to an east-west district that would likely run from Jacksonville west to the Tallahassee area. That reconfiguration would have a major impact on the seat now held by U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, as well as seats in the Orlando area.

Brown, who had opposed the Fair Districts amendments in 2010, sharply criticized the court decision, saying it "is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters." She said it may violate the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which was created to protect minority voters.

In the Tampa Bay area, the court opinion said Kathy Castor's District 14 must be redrawn so that it does not cross the bay into Pinellas County. That reconfigured district could move more Democratic voters, including African-Americans, into David Jolly's District 13, which is already a very competitive district for the Republican incumbent.

A newly shaped District 14 could also cause changes in adjacent districts represented by Buchanan, the Longboat Key Republican who represents all of Sarasota County and most of Manatee, and Rooney, whose district includes much of Charlotte County and part of Manatee.

In South Florida, the court said districts held by Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo should not split the city of Homestead. The justices also said Diaz-Balart's district should not split Hendry County.

The justices said lawmakers should consider changes for districts held by U.S. Reps. Frankel and Deutch but were less clear on the new configuration.

And the redistricting legal battles, which have been waged for three years, are far from over.

As lawmakers head toward another redistricting session in the next month or so, lawyers will begin arguing in a Tallahassee circuit courtroom in September over a similar Fair Districts challenge of the state Senate districts, which were also redrawn in 2012.

EARLIER:  The Florida Supreme Court today ordered state lawmakers to redraw eight congressional districts, having found that a trial court decision that forced the Legislature to redraw two districts in 2014 did not go far enough to meet a constitutional amendment that bans partisan line drawing.

In the 5-2 decision, Justice Barbara Pariente upheld the trial court's finding that the 2012 districts had been "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

"However, we reverse the trial court's order approving the remedial redistricting plan because we conclude that, as a result of legal errors, the trial court failed to give the proper effect to its findings of unconstitutional intent, which mandate a more meaningful remedy commensurate with the constitutional violations it found," Pariente wrote.

The opinion calls for the redrawing of eight congressional districts out of Florida's 27 districts. It targets four districts held by Democrats: U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, Kathy Castor of Tampa, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. And four districts held by Republicans: U.S. Reps. David Jolly of Indian Shores, Mario Diaz-Balart of Miami, Carlos Curbelo of Kendall and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami.

But redrawing those districts will have an impact on adjacent districts, meaning most districts will be impacted, although some more heavily than others.

The Florida Legislature met last August in a special session to redraw the congressional district lines, focusing on two districts, one held by Brown and the other held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando. But the new map, which was approved by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, also impacted seven other districts.

The Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause Florida argued the revised map did not go far enough and still violated the "Fair Districting" constitutional amendments that ban drawing district lines to benefit political parties. And the opponents appealed the decision to the Florida Supreme Court.

The current congressional delegation is controlled 17-10 by the Republicans.

What they're saying about Florida's redistricting ruling

By Michael Austen

Reaction to Thursday's Florida Supreme Court ruling from some of the members of Congress who will be affected by new maps and the state lawmakers responsible for drawing them.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville (District 5): "The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters. ... Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts. Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutterlike neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district 'compactness,' while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state."

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores (District 13): via a statement from campaign spokesperson Sarah Bascom: "Congressman Jolly has always considered District 13 to be a Pinellas County seat and has never concerned himself with where the district lines are drawn throughout the county. The courts and the Legislature will determine next steps and Congressman Jolly will remain focused solely on doing his job and serving all of Pinellas County. As the congressman has said many times, if he continues to do the job he was elected to do, the politics will take care of itself."

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa (District 14): "Florida voters adopted Fair Districts amendments to our Florida Constitution and, today, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed that districts need to be drawn to ensure that all Floridians have fair representation. I agree with their decision."

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami (District 27): "I look forward to representing the constituents of whatever district the court decides should be drawn up. It has been an incredible experience to have represented every part of Miami-Dade County during my years of public service so in whatever form the district ends up, it will be like coming home again. No worries."

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach (District 22): via a statement by communications director Erin Hale: "Florida's congressional maps and redistricting are in the hands of the state Legislature. The congresswoman is working hard to serve the residents of Palm Beach and Broward County."Former Florida Senate

President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville:"Most observers would have been very surprised if the Supreme Court had not sided with the Democratic Party and Democratic activists on this issue. ... I believe that the maps, the congressional maps, as drawn were compliant with the Constitution, and therefore, I voted for them as a member of the Senate."

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merrit Island: via an email from spokesperson Michael Williams: "At this time, the speaker will reserve comment until he has had time to fully review the Supreme Court's ruling."

Florida House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach: "I hope the third time is the charm. I trust all members of the Legislature to act not only in good faith, but to act in full compliance with the constitution and the voters' will."

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami (District 26): "The potential of new district lines is not a distraction for me nor will it diminish my desire to represent and serve the community in which my wife and I are raising our family."

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami (District 25): "At this stage, I am still reviewing the Florida Supreme Court's opinion, and will be interested to see what the state Legislature will do."

Florida Supreme Court orders redrawing of some U.S. congressional districts

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. BY BILL COTTERELL

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the redrawing of some of the state's U.S. congressional districts before the 2016 elections.

In a 5-2 ruling, the state's high court found the legislature's redistricting plan was tainted by "unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents," the latest decision in a long-running legal battle over gerrymandering in the state.

The court identified at least eight congressional districts, out of the state's 27, that need to be redrawn, including the seat currently occupied by Democrat Corrine Brown of Jacksonville. Adjacent districts also will be affected.

The state's congressional maps, and in particular Brown's oddly-shaped district stretching from Jacksonville to the Orlando area, have been the subject of ongoing litigation.

A circuit court judge ruled last year that the legislature's 2012 maps "made a mockery" of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state's constitution.

"The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated," said attorney David King, representing a group of plaintiffs led by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause.

The state's high court urged the maps to be redrawn on an expedited basis. It was not immediately clear whether that would require the state legislature to meet in special session.

Editorial: Court's ruling a victory for voters


The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday put the law and democracy ahead of partisan gamesmanship by striking down the state's congressional maps. By ordering that eight districts across the state be redrawn, including two in the Tampa Bay area, the court delivered a blow against entrenched incumbents and special interests and laid the foundation for fairer elections with truly representative results. To follow up on its sharp rebuke, the court must now ensure the Florida Legislature complies with both the letter and spirit of the order.

The 5-2 ruling came after a state court challenge to the 2012 redistricting process, a routine by the Legislature to redraw state and congressional districts every decade to reflect the most recent changes in population captured by the U.S. census. This was the first time districts had been redrawn since voters had amended the state Constitution to impose Fair District rules, which prohibit favoring incumbents or parties in making the maps.

The justices upheld the finding last year by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis that Republican political operatives conspired to manipulate the process, and that the final maps approved by the GOP-led Legislature were drawn in violation of the Fair District amendments.

But the majority said Lewis, in rejecting only two districts, stopped too short. The court ordered that eight districts - four apiece held by Republicans and Democrats - be redrawn, including District 13, held by David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and District 14, held by Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

By further defining the reaches of the Fair District amendments, which Florida voters approved in 2010, the court majority explicitly said how lawmakers must prove that new electoral districts are constitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Barbara Pariente stated flatly that "there is no acceptable level of improper intent," a crystal clear admonition against partisan maneuvering. And the court vowed to remain vigilant, saying it had an "important duty" to honor the intent of the voters.

Most immediately, the ruling could cause a scramble in the eight districts ordered redrawn and in 14 others that border them in the run-up to the 2016 elections. The court ordered the Legislature to present new maps by October, in time for candidate qualifying. And it provided clear guidance why the districts singled out failed to pass muster. In Districts 13 and 14 in the bay area, for example, the court noted that a portion of St. Petersburg was included in Castor's Tampa-area district in order to move black voters from Jolly's Pinellas-only district, thus ensuring it "was more favorable to the Republican Party."

"Accordingly," the court ruled, "Districts 13 and 14 must be redrawn to avoid crossing Tampa Bay."

Thursday's ruling will affect far more than the eight named districts and their representatives. There will be a cascading effect on adjoining districts as lawmakers decide which neighborhoods to add or shave to satisfy the court. The net result should be districts that are more demographically balanced and competitive - a far cry from the current reality in a state that voted twice for Barack Obama, that has more registered Democrats than Republicans - and yet still has 17 Republicans in the U.S. House to the Democrats' 10.

The ruling also underscores the sad fact that even as voters exercise the best of intentions in passing measures such as the Fair District amendments, state lawmakers find a way to subvert them. On that score, the court set out guidelines as the Legislature prepares to redraw the districts. It encouraged lawmakers to hold meetings in public, to record any secret meetings, to welcome public input and feedback on the maps and to preserve all emails and documents in order to avoid protracted litigation.

That the court felt compelled in this day and age to plead for such a basic level of openness in a state where transparency is already enshrined in the Constitution says something about what the public and the judicial branch are up against. For now, though, the ruling promises a fresh start. The court needs to ensure the new maps pass the expansive test the Constitution requires. And voters need to look beyond this victory by seeking a new constitutional amendment that hands this job to an independent redistricting commission.

Editorial: Supreme Court redistricting ruling a smackdown for hyper-partisan Legislature

Published: July 10, 2015

All of the secrecy and back-room dealing that marked the state Legislature's sordid redistricting process has come undone with a Florida Supreme Court ruling Thursday.

And rightfully so. In a 5-2 decision, the court found the Legislature's redistricting process in 2012, and the resulting congressional boundaries, were "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

The court ordered eight of the state's 27 congressional districts to be redrawn. Two of them, District 13 occupied by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, and District 14 occupied by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, are among the eight districts.

The ruling validates claims by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other voter-rights groups that sued over the Legislature's blatant disregard for two constitutional amendments voters passed in 2010. The amendments, passed by 63 percent of the voters, instructed lawmakers to draw the district boundaries fairly and without benefit to the incumbent party. Lawmakers responded by promising transparency.

What they delivered was anything but transparency. Testimony during a civil trial over the redistricting process pulled the curtain back on the partisan shenanigans that subverted the will of the people. Secret meetings were held, documents were destroyed and Republican consultants were allowed to influence the process.

This is what happens when one party dominates the political landscape, whether it be Republican or Democrat. There is a feeling of invulnerability and an arrogance that infects the process. What happened with the redistricting process isn't too different from what happened this year with Amendment 1 and the voters' desire to protect environmentally sensitive lands. Despite getting nearly 75 percent of the vote, the amendment's dictates were largely ignored by lawmakers.

Perhaps that's because many of them are safely ensconced in political districts that are heavily weighted with voters from their party. That's why drawing fair district boundaries matter, and why this redistricting case is so critical.

By keeping the districts contiguous where possible, and not favoring any political party, a more competitive political process can flourish and a more measured politician can have a chance of winning, rather than the ideologues who adhere to a straight party line.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled voters in Arizona could create an independent redistricting commission rather than rely on partisan state lawmakers to draw the lines. We've advocated Florida consider that model, though no system will entirely cleanse the process of political influences.

The lawmakers who drew Florida's tainted lines have fought the legal challenges every step of the way. Anticipating that push-back, the state Supreme Court urged lawmakers to "consider making all decisions on the redrawn map in public view."

Failing to do that would be another insult to the people they represent.

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT RULES EIGHT CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS WERE DRAWN UNCONSTITUTIONALLY

Have you ever wondered how Florida - despite having more Democratic voters than Republicans, sending Obama to the White House in the past two presidential cycles, and seeing razor-close gubernatorial elections - has somehow sent 17 Republicans and only ten Democrats to the House? It just doesn't make sense, does it? Well, gerrymandering has a lot to do with it.

Today, the Florida Supreme Court sent down a ruling deeming eight of Florida's 27 congressional districts are drawn unconstitutionally. Three of those are right here in Miami-Dade and are held by Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Carlos Curbelo. In a 5-2 ruling, the court ordered the districts to be redrawn in time for the 2016 election cycle. 

Congressional districts (along with state legislative districts) are drawn up by the state legislature every ten years, and it just so happens districts tend to favor the party in charge at the time. What has happened is that seats held by Democrats tend have a large concentration of Democratic voters, whereas seats held by Republicans tend to have smaller but solid Republican voter advantages.
 

In 2010, Florida voters had about enough of the gerrymandering and approved a constitutional amendment calling for fair districts. Under the new amendment, districts were supposed to be drawn without favor to incumbents or a specific political party and were supposed to take local city and county borders into account. 

A coalition of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters, claimed the current districts were drawn with political motivation. The justices agreed. 

"The trial court's factual findings and ultimate determination [is] that the redistricting process and resulting map were 'taint[ed]' by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the majority opinion. 

The justices also chastised the Republican-led legislature for holding meetings about the redistricting in secret and allowing political operatives to influence the decisions. 

"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny." 

The eight districts must now be redrawn, and the 14 districts that border them could also be affected. 

The court also handed down rules for carrying out further redistricting, including that all meetings must be open to the public and those that aren't must be recorded.

Congressional map to be redrawn


In a land mark ruling Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the congressional map must be redrawn to eliminate partisan bias in eight districts.

The 5-2 Supreme Court ruling upheld an earlier trial court decision that the map violates a 2010 amendment to the Florida Constitution designed to eliminate "gerrymandering" - the practice of a political party or representatives in power manipulating district boundaries to favor or disfavor a party or incumbent.

The ruling said "the redistricting process and resulting map were 'taint[ed]' by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

The Supreme Court will relinquish the case to the trial court for 100 days with directions that it require the Legislature to redraw, on an expedited basis, congressional districts in Central and South Florida.

The legislature was encouraged to make decisions on the new map in public, allow challengers a mechanism to submit alternate maps and preserve all emails related to the redrawing of the map.

Florida Supreme Court rejects congressional districts; orders Legislature to redraw maps

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, James L. Rosica

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court has ordered state lawmakers to redraw eight of the state's congressional districts, including one in Southwest Florida, saying the most recent redistricting process was "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

In a 5-2 ruling Thursday, the court said the congressional maps don't meet the requirements of a voter approved constitutional amendment prohibiting political lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or a political party. The court ordered the Legislature to draw the maps again.

Document: Click here to read the ruling.

"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny," the ruling said.

Eight districts must be redrawn, but the court acknowledged 14 bordering districts might also have to be changed. That could mean 22 of the 27 congressional districts could be affected.

Among the districts being sent back to the drawing board is Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's District 25, which stretches across the state and includes portions of Collier and Hendry counties.

The most recent redistricting effort assigned District 25 a section of a divided Hendry County, which lawmakers at the time said was based on concerns related to the Voting Rights Act. Hendry County was a covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning federal permission was needed before any changes could be made.

In its ruling Thursday, the court rejected the justification for splitting Hendry County, in part because the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, which effectively invalidated the pre-clearance process.

Diaz-Balart said in a statement Thursday he was still reviewing the opinion "and will be interested to see what the state Legislature will do."

Dave Carpenter, the qualifying officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, said it's unclear what impact the court's ruling will have on the district's boundaries within Collier County.

"Where the change will be made, I can't fathom a guess," he said. "All we can hope for is that the Legislature, with all due speed, gets the situation corrected."

The ruling, written by Justice Barbara Pariente, allowed for 100 days for fixes to the maps, essentially setting a deadline of mid-October. The ruling also noted that the congressional qualifying period "is not far away."

Candidates hoping to run for federal offices, such as U.S. House, can qualify during a weeklong period in early May 2016.

The short-time frame outlined in the ruling likely means another special session this year. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, were reviewing the ruling and both men declined to comment.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and others challenged the new maps in 2012, saying the congressional districts were drawn to favor the GOP.

The court's decision went further than a trial court's previous ruling, and also directed two Tampa area districts to be reconfigured to "avoid crossing Tampa Bay."

The 13th congressional district, held by Republican Rep. David Jolly, doesn't cross the bay, but the nearby 14th District, held by Democrat Rep. Kathy Castor, does, sweeping from Tampa over the water to envelop St. Petersburg.

The court said such boundaries "added more Democratic voters to an already safely Democratic District 14, while ensuring that District 13 was more favorable to the Republican Party."

The ruling will also affect districts in South Florida held by Democratic Reps. Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, and Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

The northeast Florida district held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown will also be affected. Her oddly shaped district is often used as an obvious case of gerrymandered districts, and is designed to contain a majority of African-Americans.

Last year, a Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled there was enough evidence to show consultants helped manipulate the redistricting process. He ruled two of the state's 27 districts were invalid, and lawmakers responded by drawing a new map.

In the ruling Thursday, the court questioned whether the full extent of the political maneuver had been exposed.

"Since many of the emails were deleted or destroyed, we still may have only a partial picture of the behind-the-scenes political tactics," wrote Pariente.

The opinion also included a testy exchange between Pariente and Justice Charles Canady, who joined Justice Ricky Polston in dissent. Canady called the ruling "an extreme distortion of the appellate process," saying the majority took it upon itself to rewrite the rules of redistricting.

Pariente addressed the critique in her opinion for the majority, saying the majority "categorically reject the dissent's many derisive criticisms."

COMMENTARY: Rep. Brown's loss is voters gain

Neal Bennett, Director of Digital6:17 p.m. EDT July 9, 2015

Wednesday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court declaring unconstitutional eight Florida Congressional districts, including Rep. Corrine Brown's (D-Jacksonville) District Five, is a huge victory for voters. It's clearly a defeat for Brown...but it also impacts Republican incumbents like Clay County's Rep. Ted Yoho and Jacksonville's Rep. Ander Crenshaw

You see, what the Supreme Court said is that drawing district lines that intentionally favor one party or an incumbent violates a constitutional amendment that Florida voters passed in 2010. That law (2010 Amendment 5) says districts need to be "as equal in population as feasible" and use "city, county and geographical boundaries" to determine districts.


 

Anyone who has looked at a map can tell Brown's serpentine-like district that runs along a thin line from Jacksonville to Seminole County does not use city, county and geographical boundaries)

The downstream effect is the lines will be re-drawn....and that's a good thing.

In the 2014 election, Brown's district had 241,000 registered Democratic voters and under 80,000 Republicans. Compare that to Yoho's district next door, which had 180,000 Republicans and 171,000 Democrats.

Congresswoman Brown says the decision is a bad deal for minority voters. Indeed, her district and two others in South Florida were drawn to isolate African-American voters...and elect African American candidates.

Rep. Corrine Brown statement on redistricting decision

The cost of those lines though are races that are for the most part uncompetitive across the state, incumbents coasting to victory, and an electorate that feels more isolated than ever from their representatives on Capitol Hill.

Moving Democrats from Brown's district to Crenshaw's, Yoho's, and the seat being opened up by Ron Desantis running for the Senate, means all of our House races will likely be more competitive. That means candidates will have to pay closer attention to voters of both parties, both before and after they get elected. That is a good thing, for all of us.

(Neal Bennett is the Director of Digital for First Coast News. He has a masters degree in political science from the University of Florida)


Florida Supreme Court Orders Redrawing of Some 'Constitutionally Invalid' Congressional Districts

BY REUTERS 7/9/15 AT 12:06 PM

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the redrawing of some of the state's U.S. congressional districts before the 2016 elections.

The state's high court found the legislature's redistricting plan was "constitutionally invalid," the latest decision in a long-running legal battle over gerrymandering in the state.

The court said two of the state's 27 congressional districts, currently occupied by Democrat Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Republican Daniel Webster in the Orlando area, need to be redrawn, as well as adjacent districts.

These districts have been the subject of litigation. A circuit court judge ruled last year that the legislature's 2012 maps "made a mockery" of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state's constitution.

"The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated," said attorney David King, representing a group of plaintiffs led by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause.

Democrats see hope in Florida Supreme Court ruling for new districts, but much remains unclear

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI

For Florida Democrats, the dream 2016 scenario goes like this: A Democrat gets elected to Congress in Tampa. Another one in Orlando. A third in Miami. The party picks up three seats, suddenly holding almost half of the state's congressional delegation.

But Thursday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court ordering that the state's congressional map be redrawn doesn't guarantee the Democrats' wishes will come true.

The court's 5-2 decision landed as a political bombshell 16 months before an election in the country's largest swing state. Two of the districts directly affected already have nationally watched competitive races. Yet it's too early to know exactly how everything will play out, especially considering how the state Democratic Party has struggled to seize past opportunities.

Much will depend on the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate, which are responsible for creating the new boundaries. The court wants eight of the state's 27 congressional districts redrawn in 100 days, though more districts will almost certainly be affected.


 
What gives Democrats hope is that the eight targeted districts are in the state's most populated - read: most liberal - areas: Three are based in Miami-Dade County and two in Broward and Palm Beach; two lie in the Tampa Bay area; and one stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando.

"The three highly dense populations in the state are areas where Democrats tend to benefit the most," said Christian Ulvert, a Miami Democratic consultant.

Democrats' best opportunity may be in Tampa, where lawmakers could reconfigure Republican Rep. David Jolly's district to include the southern tip of St. Petersburg - a left-leaning area now in Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor's district. Jolly's seat was already considered competitive for Democrats; Castor's district is so deeply blue that losing a portion of that base would probably not be enough to put her in serious danger.

The possibility of losing his seat could push Jolly to instead run for the U.S. Senate in 2016. He has already flirted with the idea.

"No decision yet," Jolly spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said in an email to the Miami Herald.

In Central Florida, Democrats could benefit if Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown's snaking district results in a chunk of Democratic voters moving to districts of either Rep. John Mica of Orlando or Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Garden, both Republicans. But giving Brown a larger portion of North Florida could cause headaches for another Democrat, Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee.

The two women could both end up in the same district, or one of their districts could lose so many Democrats as to make it difficult for both of them to win. If Graham were left out, she could start running for another position - say, Florida governor in 2018. Her name has repeatedly surfaced for the job after she became the only Florida Democrat to win a swing seat in 2014.

Graham's spokesman said she had not had time yet to review the court's decision, citing a busy schedule.

"There is no guarantee that there will be more opportunities for Democrats," said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan political analyst group in Washington. "This could be another case of be careful what you wish for."

The two districts to be redrawn in Broward and Palm Beach are solidly Democratic, held by Reps. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. There's a chance the two colleagues could find themselves in the same district, but it's an unlikely region for Republicans to make many gains.

Things are messier in Miami-Dade, where the court called for the three districts held by Cuban-American Republicans to be reorganized. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's district includes a portion of Hendry County in Southwest Florida that should be kept together, the court ruled. Giving the rest of the county to Diaz-Balart would turn the district less red but perhaps not enough to counter heavily Republican Collier County and Northwest Miami-Dade.

That leaves Reps. Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose districts divide the city of Homestead. The freshman Curbelo already has a target on his back - his district is nearly evenly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents - and getting an influx of Homestead Democrats could make his re-election more difficult. Or they could go to Ros-Lehtinen, making her district more competitive.

As a longtime incumbent with widespread name recognition and some moderate positions, Ros-Lehtinen hardly appeared concerned.

"It has been an incredible experience to have represented every part of Miami-Dade County during my years of public service so in whatever form the district ends up, it will be like coming home again," she said in a statement. "No worries."

Herald/Times staff writer Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report.

By NICK MADIGAN


 

MIAMI - The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected political gerrymandering by state legislators and ordered eight congressional districts redrawn within 100 days, a decision likely to complicate preparations for next year's elections.

In the 5-to-2 decision, the justices concurred with a trial court's finding that a 2012 redistricting map drawn by the Republican-led Legislature had been tainted by "unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbent lawmakers," and that Republican "operatives" and political consultants "did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process."

Several states, including California, New Jersey, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Hawaii, use redistricting commissions, and the court effectively gave them its blessing. Officials in several other states, including Ohio, Maryland and Wisconsin, have said they might form similar panels.

There is no current plan in Florida to create a redistricting commission, a move that would require a constitutional amendment. But the decision in the Arizona case makes any attempt by Florida Republicans to challenge the State Supreme Court decision in federal courts unlikely, said Prof. Richard L. Hasen, who teaches law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and is an expert in election law.

"If they try to go to the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be unsuccessful," Professor Hasen said. Either way, he predicted rough waters for Florida in some of its redrawing efforts, particularly in districts with large minority populations.

"If they don't take minority interests enough into account, it could violate the Voting Rights Act, and if they pack minority voters into too few districts, it could create an unconstitutional racial gerrymander," he said, referring to pending cases making that claim in Virginia and North Carolina.

He said the kind of gerrymandering seen in the Florida case and others left the clear impression of "trying to maximize your own party's seats to the unfair detriment of the other party."

State Senator Donald J. Gaetz, a Republican who was president of the Florida Senate at the time of the redistricting in 2012, said in a telephone interview that he had not read the court's decision and would wait to hear from the current Senate president about next steps. Pressed for an opinion about the court's determination that the redistricting had been tainted by partisanship, Mr. Gaetz said, "If I agreed with that characterization, I would not have voted for that plan along with a majority of Democrats and Republicans who voted for it."

Scott Arceneaux, the executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said the court had "found Tallahassee Republicans guilty of unconstitutionally subverting Florida's democracy" and creating an "unconstitutional mess."

In a statement released by his office, Mr. Arceneaux said he hoped that "Republicans put aside their petty self-interest and - for once - respect the voice of Florida's voters."

Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida State League of Women Voters, said the decision "sets a precedent for many states across the country who are dealing with gerrymandered districts."

"We had no idea of the nontransparent and shameful behavior of our legislators," she said. "This was the fox guarding the henhouse. In gerrymandered states, lawmakers end up choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their legislators."

Legislature ordered to redraw South Florida congressional districts

By Dan Sweeney

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the state legislature to redraw some congressional districts in time for the 2016 election, a move that will have a large impact on South Florida.

The court found the legislature's "redistricting process and resulting map were 'taint[ed]' by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents."

The court specifically required the legislature to redraw five South Florida districts, two Tampa-area districts, and a snake-like district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, plus "all other districts affected thereby."

The affected South Florida districts are represented by:

District 21: Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton;

District 22: Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach;

District 25: Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami;

District 26: Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Kendall;

District 27: Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami.

Additionally, because districts 23 and 24, represented by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Weston, and Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, are completely surrounded by these five districts, they will likely have to be redrawn as well.

"When you move pieces of eight districts, there's bound to be a domino effect," Wilson said. "The Supreme Court decision will have to impact my district in some way because it is surrounded by at least half of those that will be redrawn. When they go back to look at the districts, they will not only look at those eight, but will probably consider the entire state."

The order will mean another special session of the Florida Legislature, which already held one in June to pass a budget. And the ruling could set a precedent for a separate case challenging Florida's state Senate districts. That case goes to trial this September in Tallahassee.

The decision comes after years of lawsuits between the state and the supporters of Florida's two Fair District amendments, passed in 2010, that require redistricting maps to be contiguous, compact, and wherever possible, use previously created borders such as city and county lines and geographical features. Moreover, the district maps could not be written to benefit a political party.

In its decision, the court encouraged the Legislature "to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation."

During the lawsuit between the state and the League of Women Voters and other civic groups, emails and sworn testimony showed much of the redistricting process had taken place behind closed doors between Republican state legislators and Republican operatives trying to preserve the best possible scenario for their candidates.

The testimony revealed that a political consulting firm called Data Targeting served as a middleman between operatives and the legislature, using third parties to independently submit Republican-approved maps.

Pat Bainter, the Republican political consultant who runs Data Targeting, tried but failed to get those emails sealed. Released on Dec. 1, 2014, they demonstrated an orchestrated effort to maintain an electoral map favorable to incumbents and, especially, the Republican Party.

The trial court, under Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, allowed the map to be replaced with a "remedial redistricting map" that made minor changes. But the Florida Supreme Court tossed that map as well.

"The Supreme Court in the ruling today really took lawmakers to the woodshed, and that's where they belong," said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of the groups that sued over the gerrymandered districts. "This process and the litigation that resulted was so unnecessary."

The case now goes back to the trial court, which will oversee the legislature's new attempt at drawing constitutionally compliant maps. Because of the 2016 election, the Supreme Court is requiring the legislature to redraw districts in an expedited manner.

The court will approve a redrawn map within 100 days. During that time, the public should have the opportunity to submit alternative maps.

The state legislature will have to overcome multiple objections to its previously drawn map.

Districts 21 and 22 run parallel to each other along the eastern portion of Broward and Palm Beach counties. The court found that other proposals would better comply with the Fair Districts amendments and ordered the districts to be redrawn.

District 25 includes parts of Miami-Dade, Broward, Hendry and Collier counties. The court found the legislature had improperly split up Hendry County.

"At this stage, I am still reviewing the Florida Supreme Court's opinion, and will be interested to see what the State Legislature will do," said Rep. Diaz-Balart.

In Districts 26 and 27, the court found the legislature had split Homestead, with the effect of turning a Republican-leaning district and a Democratic-leaning one into two Republican districts. The court wrote that "these districts must be redrawn."

Goodman hailed the decision as a win for voters.

"Voters will be choosing their representatives versus what is happening now: Representatives choosing their voters," she said.

Rep. Corrine Brown calls redistricting ruling 'seriously flawed'

Super strong statement from Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, about today's redisctricting ruling by the Florida Supreme Court. Brown's snake-shaped Congressional District 5 is one of eight districts the court ruled have to be redrawn for the 2016 election. Here's Brown's statement:

"The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters.  It also fails to recognize federal law, in that it did not incorporate the spirit of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the contradictory standards set by the state's Fair Districts requirements.

"Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years.  Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans.  From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).

"Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts.  Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district "compactness," while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state.  The current District 5 map is essentially the same as the previous District 3 map, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in adherence to the principles of the Voting Rights Act.  In particular, there is one critical section of the Voting Rights Act which strictly prohibits the fracturing of communities of minority voters into a variety of districts.  This element of the Act is essential in the maintenance of minority representation not just in the state of Florida, but across the entire nation.  

"Moreover, the reason why African Americans live in the areas in which they do in the first place is a direct result of historical redlining, clearly exemplified by living patterns both here in the state of Florida and easily visible in other states.  In fact, after Emancipation and the Civil War, the Black population of northeastern Florida moved along the St. Johns River, which extends from Jacksonville to just north of Orlando.  Because the land was prone to flooding, it was only natural that the poorest Floridians, including freed slaves, would settle there.  Segregated housing patterns, demanded by restrictive covenants and enforced by Florida courts, kept the African-American population together well into the mid-20th Century, which is the central reason why these communities are segregated into those residential patterns across the state.

"For most of my adult life, there were no minority members of Congress elected from Florida, and few African-Americans elected to the Florida House and Senate.  That changed in 1992 when I was elected to Congress together with Rep. Carrie Meek from Miami and Rep. Alcee Hastings from Ft. Lauderdale.

"Yet to obtain this seat I had to file a lawsuit.  I fought for four African American seats in the courts, and in the end, we reached a compromise and got three, again - based on the tenets of The Voting Rights Act.  As a result of this lawsuit, in 1993, after nearly 130 years, the state of Florida had three African American federal representatives.  And for the first time in many years, minority community members in the state were represented by people who truly understood them; who grew up in the same neighborhoods and attended the same churches and schools as they did.  I firmly believe that I, as an African American legislator, can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a profound level since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle many of the same challenges and prejudices that they have.

"District 5 in Florida, and minority access districts across the nation cannot, will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought gains we have made during the last 50 years.  As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards."


Rep. Dwight Dudley calls for independent redistricting commission

Is it time to take redistricting out of the hands of the Florida Legislature?

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, thinks so, especially in light of a Thursday ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that will require lawmakers to redraw eight congressional districts before the 2016 election.

In the next state legislative session -- for which committee meetins begin in September -- Dudley will propose that district maps for Congress, as well as the state House and Senate be drawn up by an independent commission.

"Instead of voters choosing their elected officials, it has been the elected officials who have chosen their voters," he said in a statement. "Despite a clarion call from the people to end gerrymandering and restore fairness to the redistricting process, the Florida Legislature has continued to engage in misdirection and skullduggery."

Other states have made similar decisions in an effort to keep politics (and, presumably, skullduggery) out of the process that results in district maps. Notably, Arizona's commission was recently upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The concern with allowing lawmakers to draw their own districts is that it allows the party in power to make boundaries that will ensure they remain in the majority. There are rules and laws in place to try and prevent that, but there are still parts of the state with districts that the Supreme Court says don't follow constitutional requirements of fairness.

Similar proposals to Dudley's have been announced before. This spring, Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, introduced legislation to create a redistricting commission. It never had a single committee hearing in the House or Senate.


Court: Florida must redraw congressional map

By MATT DIXON

 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that eight of the state's 27 congressional maps must be redrawn by the GOP-led state legislature, a decision that will impact a number of nationally watched House seats in the 2016 election cycle.

The 5-2 decision says lawmakers only need to redraw the eight impacted seats, half of which are in South Florida - but because that will impact neighboring districts, the changes will send ripple effects across the state.

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The court ruled that the maps were at odds with anti-gerrymandering amendments to the state constitution passed by voters in 2010. Those changes no longer allowed the Legislature to use the redistricting process to favor political parties or incumbents.

"With the voters' approval of the Fair Districts Amendment, that unfortunate fact of political life was banned in Florida," read the majority opinion, which was penned by Justice Barbara Pariente, who was appointed by then-Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Justice Jorge Labarga, Fred Lewis, and James Perry concurred. The dissenting opinion was written by Justice Charles Canady, with Justice Ricky Polston concurring.

In his dissent, Canady, appointed by then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, says the majority did not identify anywhere in its opinion that the Legislature acted with "improper intent."

"Instead, the majority puts forth a misconstruction of the trial court's ruling based on fragments form the final judgment taken out of context and creatively cobbled together," he wrote.

The court decided not to draw the maps themselves - as plaintiffs had asked - but instead sent issue back down to the trial court level. If lawmakers do not appeal the ruling, they will have 100 days to redraw the maps, which likely means a special legislative session.

Florida's congressional maps have been at the heart of nearly three-year-long legal saga. Shortly after passage in 2012, the maps were challenged in court by a group of plaintiffs, including the Florida League of Women Voters. Tallahassee circuit judge Terry Lewis ruled the original maps were unconstitutional, forcing the Legislature into a special session last summer to redraw the plans.

Lewis approved the new maps. But the original plaintiffs appealed, arguing that the Legislature's changes - tweaks to the districts currently held by Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Daniel Webster - were insignificant.

The plaintiffs called Thursday's decision a "complete victory."

"The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated," David Black, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement. "We look forward to the legislature following the [state] constitution and the directives of the court."

In his ruling, Lewis said emails from Republican political consultants that dominated much of the initial 2014 trial were enough to prove the maps were drawn with "unconstitutional intent." Because of that intent, Pariente wrote, the burden of proof for proving the maps were constitutional was on the Legislature, not the plaintiffs.

That rationale was used by the court to wipe out the snake-like 5th Congressional District, which splits seven counties between Jacksonville and Orlando. The seat was drawn by a federal court in 1992 as a majority-minority seat and has been at the center of redistricting battles since. Democrats have long argued that Republicans "pack" black voters into the seat, held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, to boost Republican performance in surrounding districts.

The Legislature argued the seat needed to have a 50-percent black voting-age population to avoid a civil rights challenge. Pariente said that was not the case and faulted Lewis for giving deference to lawmaker's arguments. In a move long sought by Democrats, she ruled that Brown's seat should be erased and replaced with an east-to-west version proposed by the plaintiffs.

"The trial court erred in deferring to the Legislature's enacted North-South configuration," she wrote.

The "unconstitutional intent" was also used to scrap Tampa-area seats held by Democrat Kathy Castor and Republican David Jolly. Castor's seat jumps across Tampa Bay and includes Democratic-leaning black voters in the southern portion of Pinellas County. The court's majority said that was done so to keep them out of Jolly's seat.

The opinion also chided lawmakers for making important decisions behind closed doors. One of those was to split Homestead, a city in Miami-Dade County represented by Republicans Carlos Curbelo and Ileana Ros-Lethinen, both of which will now be redrawn. The decision to split the city, which created two Republican districts, was not done in a public meeting.

Southeast Florida seats held by Democrats Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel were also struck down by the court.

Under the map's current makeup, Jolly and Curbelo are in competitive districts, but it's difficult to determine how the composition of those - or other - seats will change after the required sweeping redraw.

Democrats immediately noted a few pickup opportunities, including Jolly and Curbelo's seats. Under the ruling, Jolly could gain nearly 140,000 Democratic-leaning black voters, making his seat even more vulnerable.

"The primary and most obvious effect is that it makes David Jolly's seat much more difficult for him to hang on to," a national Democratic strategist said. "From my armchair quarterbacking, I don't know how you redraw that [seat] without putting in a lot more Democrats in there."

The decision could also have ripple effects in the state's open-seat Senate race. Three members of the congressional delegation are already in the race - Democrats Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson, and Republican Ron DeSantis - and others impacted by the ruling could join them.

A Jolly campaign spokeswoman said after the court ruling the congressman is undecided on a potential Senate bid.

"No decision has been made either way at this time," said Jolly spokeswoman Sarah Bascom.

Elena Schneider in Arlington, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Email insights: Nothing speaks louder than success for the LWVF and redistricting

By Phil Ammann -

 

Jul 9, 2015

Nothing speaks louder than success, and few things are more favorable to a group than a "total victory."

Celebrating its success is the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is reveling over Thursday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that took a red pen to the state's congressional maps.

It was -  in the words of the LWVF - no less than a "Victory for Democracy." It capped a long-running dispute going as far back as the Florida Fair Districts amendment battle in 2010.

After ruling that lawmakers engaged in illegal gerrymandering, justices ordered the GOP-controlled Legislature back to the drawing board, to redraw eight congressional districts. In the 5-2 ruling, the court also gave a set of instructions for drafting new maps by the 2016 elections, including submitting plans for the eight redrawn districts to the court for approval.

Ultimately, at least 14 more districts - and possibly all 27 in Florida - could be indirectly affected.

"It has been a long, hard battle against devious political scheming, but today the Florida Supreme Court handed the people of Florida a total victory, forcing the redrawing of every one of the eight districts that we contested in the lawsuit," said LWVF President Pamela Goodman in a celebratory email.

Goodman was a member of the coalition that filed the gerrymandering lawsuit.

"Not only must the Legislature act speedily and hold a special session to redraw," she added, "what could prove to be nearly every congressional district in the state, but the Florida Supreme Court is leaving nothing to chance - the court will have final approval on the redrawn districts."

Goodman added that the League will continue to watch the process, making sure lawmakers operate in complete sunshine and transparency.

"Today, the Florida Supreme Court took the Florida Legislature to the woodshed," Goodman continued. "Their egregious behavior using partisan political operatives in the redistricting process was appropriately reprimanded.

"We commend our court system, our legal system and the hard work of citizens of Florida for making today a victory for the voice of the people."

Both the opinion and the order are available online.

After all, few people can blame the LWVF for rejoicing, after such an extended conflict.

Email insights: Ted Deutch's lightning-fast redistricting response

Say what you will about U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, he strikes while the iron is hot.

With breakneck speed, the Boca Raton Democrat representing Florida's 21st Congressional District sent out the first fundraising email in the wake of Florida's Supreme Court throwing out parts of the state's congressional map.

The state's highest court found that lawmakers violated Florida's Fair Districts constitutional amendment, which bans political influence when drawing districts.

Deutch's is among the eight congressional districts state legislators must now redraw - including swing seats of Republican U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Carlos Curbelo. Also up for reshuffling are Democratic U.S. Reps. Corrine BrownKathy Castor and Lois Frankel, as well as Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Lawmakers are also required to submit new maps to the court for approval.

Thus came the urgent money pitch, with a subject line - appropriately - of "Emergency!"

"The Florida Supreme Court just ordered the Congressional District I represent to be redrawn before next year's election," the email goes. "I have never needed your support like I do right now - today!"

Deutch raised the likely possibility of running in a new district, introducing himself to a new group of - potentially unfriendly - voters.

Although the court did not give a deadline for redistricting, the new maps have to be finished by the 2016 elections.

In many states, partisan gerrymandering is legal, but in 2010, Florida amended the state constitution to ban the practice. Cited in the state court's opinion was the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld Arizona's use of an independent redistricting commission.

What remains to be seen is how the ruling will change the political complexion of the Florida caucus. But one thing is sure, with this lightning-fast money pitch, Deutch is taking this very seriously.


 


Florida politicians react to today's redistricting ruling

By Phil Ammann -

 

Florida's Supreme Court threw out the state's congressional map on Thursday, in a ruling that found lawmakers illegally gerrymandered political districts.

Justices then ordered the Republican-led Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts, with two that expect to be heavily contested in 2016.

Incumbents directly affected by the ruling are Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown,Kathy CastorTed Deutch, and Lois Frankel, as well as Republican Reps. David JollyMario Diaz-BalartCarlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. At least 14 more will be indirectly affected by the new political maps. In all, more than half of Florida's 27 congressional district could be impacted in some way.

Here is a compilation of responses from members of Congress:

U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, Jacksonville's 5th Congressional District:

The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters.  It also fails to recognize federal law, in that it did not incorporate the spirit of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the contradictory standards set by the state's Fair Districts requirements.

Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years.  Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans.  From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).

Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts.  Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district "compactness," while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state.  The current District 5 map is essentially the same as the previous District 3 map, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in adherence to the principles of the Voting Rights Act.  In particular, there is one critical section of the Voting Rights Act which strictly prohibits the fracturing of communities of minority voters into a variety of districts.  This element of the Act is essential in the maintenance of minority representation not just in the state of Florida, but across the entire nation.

Moreover, the reason why African Americans live in the areas in which they do in the first place is a direct result of historical redlining, clearly exemplified by living patterns both here in the state of Florida and easily visible in other states.  In fact, after Emancipation and the Civil War, the Black population of northeastern Florida moved along the St. Johns River, which extends from Jacksonville to just north of Orlando.  Because the land was prone to flooding, it was only natural that the poorest Floridians, including freed slaves, would settle there.  Segregated housing patterns, demanded by restrictive covenants and enforced by Florida courts, kept the African-American population together well into the mid-20th Century, which is the central reason why these communities are segregated into those residential patterns across the state.

For most of my adult life, there were no minority members of Congress elected from Florida, and few African-Americans elected to the Florida House and Senate.  That changed in 1992 when I was elected to Congress together with Rep. Carrie Meek from Miami and Rep. Alcee Hastings from Ft. Lauderdale.

Yet to obtain this seat I had to file a lawsuit.  I fought for four African American seats in the courts, and in the end, we reached a compromise and got three, again - based on the tenets of The Voting Rights Act.  As a result of this lawsuit, in 1993, after nearly 130 years, the state of Florida had three African American federal representatives.  And for the first time in many years, minority community members in the state were represented by people who truly understood them; who grew up in the same neighborhoods and attended the same churches and schools as they did.  I firmly believe that I, as an African American legislator, can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a profound level since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle many of the same challenges and prejudices that they have.

District 5 in Florida, and minority access districts across the nation cannot, will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought gains we have made during the last 50 years.  As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Tampa's 14th Congressional District

Florida voters adopted Fair Districts amendments to our Florida Constitution and, today, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed that districts need to be drawn to ensure that all Floridians have fair representation. I agree with their decision.

No matter how new districts are ultimately drawn, I will continue to stand up for Tampa Bay area families, good jobs, good schools and equal opportunity for all. I am more committed than ever to standing up to the special interests that hold so much sway in Washington and am grateful for the bipartisan support of my friends and neighbors. I will remain focused on boosting higher wages, economic opportunity, college affordability and equal rights, and shifting district lines will only sharpen my focus.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Miami's 26th Congressional District:

Since arriving in Washington I have been focused on improving the quality of life in South Florida and making our country stronger. The potential of new district lines is not a distraction for me nor will it diminish my desire to represent and serve the community in which my wife and I are raising our family.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Miami's 25th Congressional District:

At this stage, I am still reviewing the Florida Supreme Court's opinion, and will be interested to see what the State Legislature will do.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, West Palm Beach's 22nd Congressional District (through spokesperson Erin Hale):

Florida's Congressional maps and redistricting are in the hands of the State Legislature. The Congresswoman is working hard to serve the residents of Palm Beach and Broward County. This Supreme Court decision will not change her focus on her constituents.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, Pinellas County's 13th Congressional District (through spokesperson Sarah Bascom):

Congressman Jolly has always considered District 13 to be a Pinellas county seat and has never concerned himself with where the district lines are drawn throughout the county.  The courts and the legislature will determine next steps and Congressman Jolly will remain focused solely on doing his job and serving all of Pinellas county.  As the Congressman has said many times, if he continues to do the job he was elected to do, the politics will take care of itself.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenMiami's 27th Congressional District:

I look forward to representing the constituents of whatever district the court decides should be drawn up. It has been an incredible experience to have represented every part of Miami-Dade County during my years of public service so in whatever form the district ends up, it will be like coming home again. No worries.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, of Boca Raton's 21st Congressional District, responded to the ruling earlier Thursday with an emailed fundraising pitch, subject line "Emergency."

"The Florida Supreme Court just ordered the Congressional District I represent to be redrawn before next year's election," the email said. "I have never needed your support like I do right now - today!"

Although the Supreme Court did not give a deadline for redistricting, new maps have to be finished by the 2016 elections.


Florida Congressional Delegation About To Panic


 

Well what a mess created by Florida Republican leaders in the state House and Senate. Their grim determination to draw congressional districts to best suit the needs of the GOP - and to do much of it in secret - showed a particular disdain for Florida voters.

As the Florida Supreme Court noted today: Our citizens declared that the Legislature must "redistrict in a manner that prohibits favoritism or discrimination."

Then Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Dean Cannon, cheerfully ignored Florida's constitution both for redistricting and the public's right to know. The trial court witnessed arrogant testimony and deliberate efforts to mislead the courts and voters about the role of GOP lobbyists in the redistricting process.

In the court's 5-2 decision, the court noted: The Legislature's failure to preserve redistricting records and its decision to make important changes to the map during non-public meetings are factors that caused the trial court, and cause this Court, great concern as to whether the Legislature has complied with the constitutional provision to outlaw partisan political gerrymandering.

Now, eight members of Florida's congressional delegation have been told they occupy unconstitutional districts. They will have to be redrawn. Other members of the delegation may also have their districts altered to accommodate the changes.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, (District 21, Dem. Boca Raton), has already sent out an email declaring an "emergency" as he faces redrawn district. 

The Florida Supreme Court just ordered the Congressional District I represent to be redrawn before next year's election.

I have never needed your support like I do right now - today!  

Click here to help me raise the money I may need to run in a new district or introduce myself to new voters.

It is moments like these when I realize how grateful I am for your friendship and support.
 
 

- Ted

 

Others directly impacted include:

 

District 5, Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville

District 13, Rep. David Jolly, R-Tampa

District 14, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa

District 22, held by Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach

District 25, held by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami

District 26, held by Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami

District 27, held by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami

Excerpts from the Court's decision:

As the United States Supreme Court has recognized, "partisan gerrymanders . . . [are incompatible] with democratic principles." In short, the Fair Districts Amendment was designed "to restore 'the core principle of republican government,' namely, 'that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.' "

we conclude that two legal errors significantly affected the trial court's determination of the appropriate legal effect of its finding of unconstitutional intent.

First, the trial court erred in determining that there was no distinction between a challenge to the "plan as a whole"-a challenge, in effect, to the map produced from the unconstitutional "process"-and a challenge to individual districts.

Second, the trial court erred in the standard of review it applied, which was improperly deferential to the Legislature's decisions after finding a violation of the Fair Districts Amendment's prohibition on partisan intent.

Although it found the existence of unconstitutional intent, the trial court relied solely on objective "tier-two" constitutional indicators, such as compactness and the use of political or geographical boundaries, rather than on the direct and circumstantial evidence of "tier-one" unconstitutional intent presented at trial.

In other words, the trial court analyzed the Legislature's map as if it had not found the existence of unconstitutional intent, affording deference to the Legislature where no deference was due.

Once a direct violation of the Florida Constitution's prohibition on partisan intent in redistricting was found, the burden should have shifted to the Legislature to justify its decisions in drawing the congressional district lines.

(W)e reverse the trial court's order upholding the Legislature's remedial redistricting plan.

We relinquish this case to the trial court for a period of 100 days from the date of this opinion, with directions that it require the Legislature to redraw, on an expedited basis, Congressional Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, and all other districts affected by the redrawing, pursuant to the guidelines set forth in this opinion.

We emphasize the time-sensitive nature of these proceedings, with candidate qualifying for the 2016 congressional elections now less than a year away, and - 8 - make clear that we take seriously our obligation to provide certainty to candidates and voters regarding the legality of the state's congressional districts.

Upon the completion of the redrawing of the map, the trial court shall hold a hearing where both sides shall have an opportunity to present their arguments and any evidence for or against the redrawn map, and the trial court shall then enter an order either recommending approval or disapproval of the redrawn map.

Eight New Districts to be Drawn After Thursday's Florida Supreme Court Order

Published Friday, July 10, 2015 12:10 am

by Jackson Falconer

TALLAHASSEE - Eight Florida congressional districts will be redrawn after the state Supreme Court made an order to do so on Thursday. The court advised that there were gerrymandering "deficiencies" in the districts that defy the Florida constitution.

The Ruling for The League of Women Voters of Florida v. Ken Detzner

was 5-2 in favor of remapping, with state justices siding with Democratic-aligned groups such as the League of Women Voters, who challenged the Republican-led Florida Legislature's 2012 adoption of the current maps.

Those maps were adopted despite Floridians voting in 2010 to approve amendments that bar the Legislature from drawing up districts in order to benefit incumbents or political parties.

 "The redistricting process and resulting map (for the districts) were tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents," wrote Justice Barbara Pariente in the court's majority opinion.

 The districts to be affected by the ruling are Tampa Bay area Districts 13 (Republican David Jolly) and 14 (Democrat Kathy Castor); northeast Florida's vertically swiveling District 5 (Democrat Corrine Brown); the Boca Raton-area 21 (Democrat Theodore Deutch) and 22 (Democrat Lois Frankel); the 25th, which stretches from the Miami to Fort Myers areas (Republican Mario Diaz-Balart); the far-south 26 (Republican Carlos Curbelo); and southeastern 27 (Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).

 The districts are to be redrawn before the 2016 election.

Florida Supreme Court Rules In Gerrymandering Case; Key State Will Redraw Congressional Districts

The Florida Supreme ordered boundaries to be drawn in 8 congressional districts in the state, where it ruled that GOP-driven redistricting was unconstitutional. The ruling is a victory for a coalition of Democratic-leaning voter groups who called Florida's redistricting a clear case of Gerrymandering.  In 2010, Florida voters approved a constitutional change called the Fair Districts Amendment, which prohibits redrawing of districts that would protect incumbents or favors a particular political party. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that some redistricting violated that law.

"With the voters' approval of the Fair Districts Amendment, that unfortunate fact of political life [gerrymandering] was banned in Florida. Our citizens declared that the Legislature must 'redistrict in a manner that prohibits favoritism or discrimination,'" the court wrote in the majority opinion of its decision.

The court also cited a recent decision by the Supreme Court of The United States that upheld a similar anti-gerrymandering law in Arizona.

"Like the voters of Arizona, who adopted an independent redistricting commission recently upheld by the United States Supreme Court as consistent with the 'fundamental premise that all political power flows from the people,' the Florida voters endeavored 'to address the problem of partisan gerrymandering-the drawing of legislative district lines to subordinate adherents of one political party and entrench a rival party in power.'"

Plaintiffs in the case included the League of Women Voters and others.

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair Districts Amendment. The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated. We look forward to the legislature following the constitution and the directives of the court," said David King, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, according to the Florida Times-Union.


Adam C. Smith: Redistricting ruling spells trouble for new stars of both parties

The Florida Supreme Court's bombshell ruling over the state's congressional districts Thursday left a couple of the brightest new stars of both parties as two of the most likely losers: U.S. Reps. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee.

No, we don't know what the new districts will look like. We don't know when we'll know or even whether we'll know before November 2016. The state Supreme Court wants new maps drawn in 100 days, but a federal legal challenge or two could delay things much longer.

Still, most Republican and Democratic experts closely watching this process think that the 13th Congressional District, represented by Jolly, is likely to see the addition of heavily Democratic southern St. Petersburg. Most of those voters, many of them African-American, are currently represented by Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

Democrats see the district previously represented by the late C.W. Bill Young as almost certain to go Democratic under the new maps. Jolly is a formidable candidate, so that may be wishful thinking by Democrats. But just as a slew of Pinellas Democrats - including Charlie Crist - are now sure to take a good look at running in that district, Jolly will look hard at his options, including the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Marco Rubio.

Likewise, Graham, the daughter of Bob Graham who unseated a Panhandle Republican incumbent in the GOP wave election of 2014, looks like she's out of luck, too. Her district was already a tough one - Republican Mitt Romney carried it in the 2012 presidential election - and now the court ruling will likely shift African-American Democrats in and around Tallahassee into a newly drawn Tallahassee-to-Jacksonville district.

Graham would face a lose/lose choice: Run in an overwhelmingly Republican district or run against longtime Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. If she defeats Brown, she would effectively make Brown's case that the Florida Supreme Court is disenfranchising minority voters. Graham and her team already are considering the U.S. Senate.

Democrats also expect a strong shot at picking off a currently Republican district in the Orlando area, either John Mica's 7th Congressional District or Dan Webster's 10th District. But rather than expecting a new, safe Democratic seat, they see as more likely another swing district, which includes part of Lake County.

In Miami-Dade, Republican Carlos Curbelo's district is likely to pick up more Democratic voters in Homestead, but probably won't see dramatic changes that would make it more likely for a Democratic pick-off.

In Broward and Palm Beach, Democrats Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings and Lois Frankel will be on uncertain ground for awhile. Deutch, of Boca Raton, and Frankel, of Palm Beach, could even wind up in the same district. And with U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, running for U.S. Senate, Republicans will have a strong shot at winning his competitive district, stretching from Palm Beach to St. Lucie counties.

In other words, Republican legislators now fuming about the Supreme Court tossing out their maps could well wind up gaining a congressional seat or two after the dust settles.

Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.

Politico: Florida Redistricting Could Help Charlie Crist

By Jason Devaney

Charlie Crist, the former Florida governor who served as a Republican and then ran for office again last year as a Democrat only to be defeated, may benefit from the state's plans to redraw eight of its congressional districts.
 

 
According to a Politico report, Crist could potentially run for the House seat currently occupied by Republican David Jolly, who earned the seat in last year's midterm election.
 

 
Politico reports Crist has been thinking about running for the 13th district seat if Jolly decides not to run for re-election. Depending on how the redistricting turns out, Jolly could opt to run for the Senate instead.
 

 
The Florida Supreme Court ordered eight of the state's congressional districts redrawn on Thursday, which could change the political landscape of the state. Crist lives in the 13th district.

"The seat would be tailor-made for Charlie," said Orlando-based trial lawyer said John Morgan, a lawyer and Crist friend, in the Politico story. "I haven't spoken to Charlie about this ruling, but I would say it's far more likely than not he would run for the seat if the seat came to him. The math is there."
 

 
The current configuration of Florida's 13th district consists of north St. Petersburg, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, and other locales north of St. Petersburg. The district could be altered in such a way that it becomes more Democratic, opening the door for Crist, SaintPetersBlog notes.


 
"Everybody that has ever wanted to be a Congress member is going to be looking at that seat," Susan MacManus of the University of South Florida told the Tampa Bay Tribune.

Florida Supreme Court Strikes Down Congressional Map 

By Bridget Bowman

Updated 3:05 p.m. | The Florida Supreme Court struck down a sizable portion of the state's congressional map, throwing the 2016 elections into a state of disarray.

In a 5-2 decision Thursday, the court ruled the GOP-led redistricting process was "tainted" by partisanship and drawn to favor Republican incumbents. The Legislature has now been tasked with redrawing eight of the state's 27 congressional districts within, as well as adjacent districts affected by the new lines.

It must produce a new map within 100 days, a task that will call the legislative body back into a special session.

The justices said the Legislature must "redraw, on an expedited basis, Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27 and all other districts affected by the redrawing." The 5th District, the one at the center of the case, is held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown and is famous for its snakelike configuration.

Brown, whose majority-minority district sparked the court case, did not agree with the court's decision and declined to comment on what a redraw might mean for her political future.

"The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters," Brown said in a statement. "It also fails to recognize federal law, in that it did not incorporate the spirit of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the contradictory standards set by the state's Fair Districts requirements."

Other members from the delegation were also reluctant to predict how this might impact the current partisan breakdown. Currently, Republicans represent 17 of the state's 27 districts, even as registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in the state.

"I think most people are just waiting to see how this develops," said freshman Rep. Carlos Curbelo, a Republican representing a Miami-based district that could be significantly impacted by the decision.

In a brief interview with Roll Call in the Speaker's Lobby, Curbelo said he's not sweating the new lines, despite already being a top Democratic target in a district President Barack Obama carried twice.

"I'm confident in the work I've done here in my first six months, and I'm getting a great response in my community," Curbelo said.

Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, praised the decision and said it's too soon to speculate what a new map will look like.

"The voters spoke very clearly in 2010 when 63 percent of them said we want to make sure we get rid of political gerrymandering in Florida," she told Roll Call after votes, "and the Republicans in a stealthy and underhanded way deliberately violated Florida's constitution."

The decision was the end of a lengthy court battle over the Sunshine State's congressional map, and it marked the first time the state's Fair Districts Amendment was put to the test. Voters amended the state's constitution in 2010, stipulating that no congressional districts could be drawn to favor a political party or incumbent.

"Presented in this case with a first-of-its-kind challenge under the Fair Districts Amendment, the trial court found that the Legislature's 2012 congressional redistricting plan was drawn in violation of the Florida Constitution's prohibition on partisan intent," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote in the majority opinion. "We affirm that finding."

After the Legislature redraws its map, the justices instructed the trial court to hold a hearing to either approve or disapprove the new map.

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair Districts Amendment," said David King, the lead attorney for the coalition challenging the congressional map. "The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated. We look forward to the legislature following the constitution and the directives of the court."

Florida Supreme Court Rejects Republican Gerrymandering, Orders New Redistricting


On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court struck down a congressional redistricting map drawn largely by the legislature's Republicans, ordering legislators to redraw as many as 22 districts. The court ruled that the legislature intentionally drew the map to favor GOP incumbents and disadvantage Democrats. In addition, the justices found that Republican legislators coordinated with consultants in order to draw more Republican-leaning districts. The court ordered the legislature to redraw the map on an expedited schedule with the oversight of a trial judge.

This decision marks a groundbreaking vindication of the Fair Districts Amendment, passed by Florida voters in 2010 to stop gerrymandering. The amendment is one of several measures states have experimented with to reduce partisan redistricting. In June, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Arizona's independent redistricting commission, indirectly affirming the validity of anti-gerrymandering measures like Florida's amendment. The Florida Supreme Court approvingly quoted from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's decision in that case-which affirmed, over the conservative justices' dissent, the "fundamental premise that all political power flows from the people." 


Florida Supreme Court Throws Out Congressional Map, Orders Battleground Districts Redrawn

The state court ordered the Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts in a Thursday decision, including battlegrounds held by Reps. David Jolly and Carlos Curbelo.

BY JACK FITZPATRICK

Florida's Supreme Court ruled Thursday morning that the state's congressional map was illegally gerrymandered and ordered the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts, including two of the state's most contested battleground seats.

The Legislature will have to redraw districts represented by Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, and Lois Frankel, and Republican Reps. David Jolly, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Lawmakers will have to submit the new map to the state Supreme Court for approval. By necessity, the redraw will affect neighboring districts as well, throwing virtually the entire Florida map into flux.

Jolly and Curbelo are already two of House Democrats' top targets ahead of the 2016 elections. President Obama carried both Republicans' districts in 2008 and 2012, and Democrats hope presidential-year turnout in 2016 will boost their House candidates, too.

Sarah Bascom, a campaign spokeswoman for Jolly, said in a statement that he has always considered his constituency to be the entirety of Pinellas County-encompassing St. Petersburg and its northern suburbs-and "has never concerned himself with where the district lines are drawn throughout the county."

The court did not define a deadline for redistricting but said it has to be finished in time for the 2016 elections. (Read the decision here.)

The court also urged Florida legislators to take a more transparent approach to redistricting than they originally did.

"[I]n order to avoid the problems apparent in this case as a result of many critical decisions on where to draw the lines having been made outside of public view, we encourage the Legislature to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation," the opinion says.

It also urges lawmakers to "provide a mechanism for the challengers and others to submit alternative maps."

Partisan gerrymandering is legal in most states, but it was outlawed in Florida in a 2010 amendment to the state constitution. The court's opinion cited the U.S. Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding Arizona's independent redistricting commission.

Like those in Arizona, "Florida voters endeavored 'to address the problem of partisan gerrymandering-the drawing of legislative district lines to subordinate adherents of one political party and entrench a rival party in power,'" the opinion says, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in the Arizona case.

Election law professor and blogger Rick Hasen wrote on ElectionLawBlog.org that if not for the Supreme Court's ruling in Arizona, this ruling could have been subject to an appeal on the grounds that only the state Legislature-not the court-had the authority to determine congressional lines.

The case also illustrates the tension between Voting Rights Act requirements meant to protect minorities' electoral influence and gerrymandering laws that prevent minorities from being packed into a single district. In Brown's district, which snakes from Jacksonville to Gainesville to Orlando, state lawmakers told they court they thought they needed to maintain at least a 50 percent majority of African American voters to comply with a Voting Rights Act requirement that certain districts have enough minorities for them to elect the candidate of their choice.

But the court noted that courts have already ruled that African American voters do not need to constitute a full majority of a district in order to elect their favored candidate. In fact, a 2002 case upheld the legality of Brown's district even though the African American voting-age population was only 46 percent.

Brown, however, has publicly opposed cutting African American voters from her district, even if it benefits Democrats elsewhere. If the legislature reduces the number of African American voters in Brown's district and then she loses her reelection bid, she could sue, arguing her loss demonstrates that minorities lost their influence in her district, Hasen told National Journal. In fact, a lawsuit wouldn't be out of the question even before the next election, he said.

The political fallout of Florida's redistricting decision

@PatriciaMazzei

For Florida Democrats, the dream 2016 scenario goes like this: A Democrat gets elected to Congress in Tampa. Another one in Orlando. A third in Miami. The party picks up three seats, suddenly holding almost half of the state's congressional delegation.

But Thursday's ruling by the Florida Supreme Court ordering that the state's congressional map be redrawn doesn't guarantee the Democrats' wishes will come true.

The court's 5-2 decision landed as a political bombshell 16 months before an election in the country's largest swing state. Two of the districts directly affected already have nationally watched competitive races. Yet it's too early to know exactly how everything will play out, especially considering how the state Democratic Party has struggled to seize past opportunities.

Much will depend on the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate, which are responsible for creating the new boundaries. The court wants eight of the state's 27 congressional districts redrawn in 100 days, though more districts will almost certainly be affected.

What gives Democrats hope is that the eight targeted districts are in the state's most populated - read: most liberal - areas: Three are based in Miami-Dade County and two in Broward and Palm Beach; two lie in the Tampa Bay area, and one stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando.

What transparency in redistricting looks like

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that congressional districts redrawn by the Republican-controlled legislature violated a voter-approved constitutional amendment requiring nonpartisan map-drawing, and sent the voting maps back for a do-over.

It's an important decision for Florida voters, who'd made clear their distaste of politicized redistricting by approving the amendment.

North Carolina, of course, has no such prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, and lawmakers in 2011 redrew congressional districts that left the state - which had a House vote that was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican - with a delegation of four Democrats and nine Republicans.

The Florida decision has little bearing on the redistricting process as it stands right now in North Carolina, but  it does offer lawmakers and voters lessons on the transparency that should underlie the process.

The Florida courts in League of Women Voters v. Detzner had the benefit of emails and other communications between lawmakers, staff and consultants which established that lawmakers had acted with improper intent in drawing maps for partisan advantage.

In the redistricting case pending here, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied requests for the disclosure of such communications - sent indirectly to involved parties through attorneys for the lawmakers - citing privilege.

And the Florida courts emphasized the need for transparency at all phases of the redistricting process, with the Supreme Court demanding as much in its order:

First, in order to avoid the problems apparent in this case as a result of many critical decisions on where to draw the lines having been made outside of public view, we encourage the Legislature to conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map in public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.

Second, the Legislature should provide a mechanism for the challengers and others to submit alternative maps and any testimony regarding those maps for consideration and should allow debate on the merits of the alternative maps. The Legislature should also offer an opportunity for citizens to review and offer feedback regarding any proposed legislative map before the map is finalized.

Third, the Legislature should preserve all e-mails and documents related to the redrawing of the map. In order to avoid additional, protracted discovery and litigation, the Legislature should also provide a copy of those documents to the challengers upon proper request.

Finally, we encourage the Legislature to publicly document the justifications for its chosen configurations. That will assist this Court in fulfilling its own solemn obligation to ensure compliance with the Florida Constitution in this unique context, where the trial court found the Legislature to have violated the constitutional standards during the 2012 redistricting process.

Court rips up Florida's congressional map

By Jesse Byrnes

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that some congressional districts drawn by the state's GOP-led legislature are unconstitutional and ordered them to be changed before the 2016 elections. 

In a 5-2 ruling, the court concluded a 2012 redistricting process and resulting map favored Republicans and incumbents. The court directed the Legislature to redraw eight of the state's 27 districts. 

Those districts include seats held by Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown (5th), Kathy Castor (14th), Ted Deutch (21st), Lois Frankel (22nd) and Republican Reps. Mario Díaz-Balart (25th) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (27th). 

They also include districts for 2016 battleground races involving Republican Reps. Carlos Curbelo (26th) and David Jolly (13th), and any neighboring districts affected by the redo, affecting much of the state map.

The court called for the Legislature to expedite its redrawing of the eight districts ahead of the elections and chastised lawmakers for their previous work on the boundaries.

"[T]he Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny," the ruling said.

A circuit court judge had ruled last year that some of the congressional districts were unconstitutional and violated anti-gerrymandering laws.

The Florida Supreme Court sided Thursday with a collection of Democratic-backed voter groups concluding that districts drawn by lawmakers violated provisions of the "Fair Districts" amendments to the state Constitution. 

"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair District amendment and sought fair representation where the Legislature didn't pick their voters,'' said David King, lead attorney for the League of Women Voters which brought the challenge, according to the Miami Herald

"The Supreme Court accepted every challenge we made and ordered the legislature to do it over," King added.

Plaintiffs in the case had attempted to get a lower court to redraw the entire congressional map, citing the 2010 voter-approved amendment to curb districting that favored political parties or incumbents.

Florida Court Rules Congressional Districts Must Be Redrawn

Florida must redraw its map of congressional districts before next year's election after the state's highest court ruled it was made to favor Republicans in violation of a state ban against gerrymandering.

The ruling might throw into doubt candidate strategies for the 2016 elections and possibly lead to a shift of power in the state, which is dominated by Republicans.

"We emphasize the time-sensitive nature of these proceedings," the court said in its decision Thursday. Candidates must file paperwork to get on the ballot in less than a year.

The map approved in 2012 by Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature violated a 2010 ban on drawing election maps to favor incumbents or political parties, in which voters "sought to eliminate the age-old practice of partisan political gerrymandering," the court said.

The redistricting plan was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, a Republican. Voting-rights groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, sued claiming the map violated the state constitution.

A message left with Scott's office seeking comment on the ruling wasn't immediately returned.

Pamela Goodman, the league president, said the old map was made "so the legislators could choose their voters instead of the voters choosing the legislators."

'Beyond Thrilled'

"We are just beyond thrilled that the Florida Supreme Court has taken our Legislature to the woodshed on this," Goodman said in a phone interview. "We can only hope they have learned their lesson."

The high court ordered eight congressional districts to be redrawn, as well as all others affected by those changes. The new map will have to be approved by a lower court.

The lower-court ruling against the map last year didn't go far enough and gave deference to the Legislature when none was due, the high court said. The case is the first challenge of a map stemming from the 2010 amendment.

The case is League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner. SC14-1905, Supreme Court of Florida (Tallahassee).


Even more clips available:


 
Fla. Supreme Court orders state's congressional districts be redrawn | TBO.com ...

TBO.com (blog) - 15 hours ago

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that boundaries of eight of the state's congressional districts be redrawn, saying a recent redistricting process was "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents." The ...

Florida editorial roundup | The Sacramento Bee

Sacramento Bee - Jul 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers: July 6. Miami Herald on redistricting: A Supreme Court decision on redistricting at the end of the last term should give heart to all those people inFlorida who for years have tried and failed to make the ...

Redistricting ruling is welcomed by League of Women Voters ...

Lehigh Acres Citizen - Jul 8, 2015

The League of Women Voters of Florida applauds last week's U.S. Supreme Court redistricting ruling. The Supreme Court's action means we can finally bid a long-overdue goodbye to gerrymandering and end the practice of drawing district lines in favor of ...

Space Coast News: Florida supreme court orders districts to be redrawn ...

Celebrity Cafe - Entertainment News (blog) - 9 hours ago

That will assist this Court in fulfilling its own solemn obligation to ensure compliance with the Florida Constitution in this unique context, where the trial court found the Legislature to have violated the constitutional standards during the 2012 ...


 

Florida Supreme Court Calls For New Congressional Map - Talk Radio News ...

Talk Radio News Service - 14 hours ago

"We reverse the trial court's order approving the remedial redistricting plan because we conclude that, as a result of legal errors, the trial court failed to give the proper effect to its finding of unconstitutional intent, which mandated a more ...

Vocal Republic - Florida Supreme Court orders redrawing of some U.S. ...

Vocal Republic - 15 hours ago

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday make demands on the redrawing of some of the state's United states.S. congressional districts just before the 2016 elections. The state's the highest a trial in family court found the legislature's redistricting ...

Florida lawmakers sent back to drawing board over gerrymandered districts | US ...

The Guardian - 15 hours ago

Florida lawmakers sent back to drawing board over gerrymandered districts. Court orders 8 of 27 districts be redrawn, along with any they border; Advocates say redistricting process ignored new constitutional requirements. Florida voter. A woman votes ...

Florida's congressional districts rejected as gerrymandered | News - Home

WJXT Jacksonville - 11 hours ago

"Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts," Brown said in a statement released by her office. "Certainly, minority communities do not live ...

Kathy Castor to report raising nearly $800,000 for her re-election campaign ...

SaintPetersBlog (blog) - 9 hours ago

Although Kathy Castor is one of a handful of Florida congressional Democrats who will see the contours of her district redrawn in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling today onredistricting, nobody in Florida politics suspects it will affect ...


 

Supreme Court Declares Numerous Congressional Districts Corruptly Drawn ...

FlaglerLive.com - 7 hours ago

... woodshed," said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, which led the legal fight against the districts. "Their egregious behavior using partisan political operatives in the redistricting process was appropriately ...


Court adds Tampa area in ordering House districts redrawn | TBO.com and The ...

TBO.com - 15 hours ago

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered state lawmakers to redraw eight of the state's congressional districts, saying the most recent redistricting process was "tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and ...

State high court rules redistricting maps unconstitutional | KeysNews.com

KeysNews.com (registration) - 13 hours ago

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's congressional maps don't meet the requirements of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits political lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or a political party. The court ...

Seizing on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida activists get moving

News 13 Orlando - Jul 8, 2015

Seizing on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Florida election reformers are laying the groundwork for a campaign to amend the state constitution and create an independent redistrictingcommission. By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Reporter Last Updated: ...

Want to keep up to date on education issues around the country? The LWVUS Education Team recently launched a blog to promote the exchange of information on school reform. The site houses fact-based studies and posts with reference citations that contribute to a better understanding of different points of view about school choice issues. Florida's very own Sue M. Legg, Ph.D. heads up the blog.

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