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Florida Redistricting Ruled Unconstitutional

A state judge in Florida has declared the redestricting maps drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature after the 2010 census was intentionally drawn to ensure Republican control and therefore is forbidden by the Florida state constitution. The Campaign Legal Center sent out this email on the ruling:

Earlier today, Judge Terry P. Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit Court of Florida found that the Florida Legislature violated the state constitution when it redrew its congressional boundaries. Voters in Florida overwhelmingly supported amending the Florida Constitution in 2010 to bar the Legislature from intentionally favoring or disfavoring a political party or an incumbent. Today, Judge Lewis found a “group of Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process” and that they did so “all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and Congress that would favor the Republican Party.” He further found that “[t]hey made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting”. Judge Lewis found that the Republican political consultants “obtain[ed] the necessary cooperation and collaboration” from the Legislative leaders, enabling them to “infiltrate and influence the Legislature[.]” As a result, Judge Lewis found, they managed “to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”

The Court found that Congressional Districts 5 (Rep. Corrine Brown) and 10 (Rep. Daniel Webster) were each drawn with the intent of favoring the Republican Party. In the case of District 5, Judge Lewis found that it was “bizarrely shaped and does not follow traditional political boundaries as it winds from Jacksonville to Orlando. At one point, District 5 narrows to the width of highway 17.” The district was drawn to create a majority black voting age population even though it was unnecessary to do so to comply with the Voting Rights Act, Judge Lewis found. By removing black voters from another district and placing them in District 5, the Florida Legislature did so intentionally to make the adjoining district (District 7) more Republican. As for District 10, Judge Lewis found it contained an odd appendage which was added to benefit the incumbent Webster. District 10 was thus struck down because it was drawn intentionally to benefit the Republican Party and to favor the incumbent.

“In adopting the amendments to the Florida Constitution in 2010, Florida voters decided that voters should choose their elected representatives and that politicians shouldn’t choose their voters,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Executive Director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The Florida Legislature ignored the law and the will of Florida voters and let itself be hijacked by Republican political consultants and operatives. The decision today is a devastating indictment of those who manipulated the redistricting process secretly behind closed doors and tried to shield it from the public. Political consultants and legislators even destroyed evidence about the redistricting process, apparently in an effort to keep their conspiracy secret. Today’s victory was a direct result of the hard work and dedication of Fair Districts Now, and particularly its leader, Ellen Freidin, who made certain that Florida’s voters got a decision that safeguards their voting rights.”

Hebert along with the Orlando law firm of King Blackwell Zehnder and Wermuth, and attorneys at Jenner and Block served as co-counsel to the League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Council of La Raza, and Common Cause Florida and Florida voters who brought the lawsuit. The King Blackwell Zehnder and Wermuth law firm took the lead for the LWV Plaintiffs in the case. The case was consolidated with another challenge to the redistricting brought by the Romo plaintiffs, who also prevailed today in their challenge.

Hebert is the foremost expert on campaign and election law in the country. This problem is hardly limited to Florida. The Tea Party movement swept Republicans into control over of most state legislatures and they then carried out the redistricting process in a blatantly partisan manner. That’s why elected officials should have no control at all of that process. It should be done by a panel of neutral experts.

Comments

  1. Chiroptera says

    That’s why elected officials should have no control at all of that process. It should be done by a panel of neutral experts.

    Or replace single member districts with the proportional representation system.

  2. mkoormtbaalt says

    But reality is inherently biased against the Tea Party and that means a neutral party would be as well!

  3. says

    The Tea Party movement swept Republicans into control over of most state legislatures and they then carried out the redistricting process in a blatantly partisan manner.

    Now, look, if you’re trying to save Democracy from Socialism, Democracy’s going to take a few hits.

  4. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    @Modusoperandi:

    Agreed. There are times when you just have to destroy democracy in order to save it.

  5. Synfandel says

    @7 sundoga wrote, “#3 Chiroptera – Ugh, no thank you. Proportional non-decision more like.”

    I’d love to see your arguments and your evidence.

  6. D. C. Sessions says

    So what happens as a result of this decision?

    Nothing until 2016. Too late in the cycle.

  7. howardhershey says

    According to a well-known political scientist (she writes the text Party Politics in America; disclaimer, she’s my wife) part of the problem is the extreme concentration of Democratic voters, which makes it easy to manipulate districts so that you get a central (usually urban) district that is extremely strongly Democratic surrounded by districts that are either mixed or modestly Republican.
    After the 1990 census, the first President Bush urged the creation of majority-minority districts in the South, allegedly to ensure some minority representatives to Congress from the South. In fact it was also designed to increase Republican representation from the South. There was an interesting coalition of black and Latino Democrats and white Republicans that supported these majority-minority districts (the most flagrant were ruled unconstitutional – Miller v. Johnson 1995 – even though the Supremes later ruled that race could be an element in making the districts – Easley v. Cromartie 2001 – making the excuse that the gerrymandering was primarily political, by concentrating Democrats, not racial, by simultaneously concentrating blacks, into a district). Best estimate is that “for every overwhelmingly black Democratic district created, there is a good chance of creating two or more districts that are overwhelmingly white and Republican.” T. Edsall “Parties Play Voting Rights Reversal” Washington Post, Feb 25, 2001.
    We, of course, live in a post-racial America. [snigger]

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    howardhersey @ # 12: … the first President Bush urged the creation of majority-minority districts in the South, allegedly to ensure some minority representatives to Congress …

    At the time, I read commentary to the effect that these plans were meant to guarantee that a black person would be elected, and told whoever was unfortunate enough to be in earshot that they would guarantee that two blacks would not be elected.

    Only a quarter of a century later, the courts are catching up with me – I’m losing my edge.

  9. sundoga says

    Synfandel @ 10: My evidence is virtually every government that’s tried proportional representation. I have personal experience with the Australian Senate, and Italy’s government is the poster child.
    In both cases, the usual result is for no one to have the power to actually do anything. In Australia, the governing party is constantly having to woo and make deals with minor, pissant or one-note parties just to get basic legislation past and actually do their jobs – if one of those “balance of power” parties ever chooses to block a bill, chances are it’s dead.
    Italian politics are even worse. EVERY government is a fragile coalition of parties that mostly hate each other but hate the people opposite more; I’m not certain if it’s still true, but it used to be that Italy had actually had more elections than the number of years of the current constituion.
    Proportional representation looks good, but in practice it just leads to leadership failure.

  10. Jordan Genso says

    It should be done by a panel of neutral experts.

    Not really. It should be taken out of the hands of humans as much as possible.

    There are three competing objective criteria when redistricting: minimal population variance; minimal number of boundary “breaks” (one portion of a county being part of a larger district, and another portion of a county being part of a different larger district, for example); and the compactness of the districts. As you work towards an optimal result for one of those criteria, the other two are likely to become less-optimal.

    The first role for humans to play, in regards to those criteria, would be:
    1) set the maximum allowed population variance.
    2) define “break” in a clear and consistent way
    3) define “compactness” in a clear and consistent way (for one possible explanation, add up all of the total miles of boundaries between the districts- maps with more “compact” districts will have shorter borders)

    Then allow a computer to create multiple maps, setting different priorities among the three criteria for each map. No human interaction is needed for these calculations.

    The second role for humans to play then would to be to observe the numerical results from the computer (so, they would see the corresponding population variance, number of breaks, and boundary-length of the districts for each map), and then have them vote on which one they would prefer. But do not allow them to see the visual map associated with each set of numbers. Force them to vote based solely on the objective, quantifiable data, and nothing else.

    It doesn’t really matter whether the humans involved are a “panel of neutral experts”, or the legislature- though the former would probably streamline things.

  11. Suido says

    @sundoga #14

    Proportional representation looks good, but in practice it just leads to leadership failure.

    That’s interesting, Australian and US two-party, district rep systems haven’t lead to any leadership failures. Cough.

    I actually really like Australia’s bicameral system where one house is proportionally elected and the other house is regionally elected. The government gets to set the agenda and push any legislation it wants through the lower house, but the upper house provides some opportunity to oppose extreme elements of their legislative agenda.

    Political horse trading is great when it’s used to ensure checks and balances on the government. Sure, there’s always going to be some pork allocations as well, but I’ll take the good with the bad.

    In Australia, the governing party is constantly having to woo and make deals with minor, pissant or one-note parties just to get basic legislation past and actually do their jobs .

    This bolded part is incorrect. Recent example of the budget – basic legislation for the budget is known as supply, and all supply bills were passed in the Senate with support from the ALP and minor parties. These bills keep the government and services running, which is why nothing ground to a halt in the fortnight since the new financial year.

    The legislation which is not being passed are new bills created by the new government, which have never been part of previous budgets. Hence, they’re not basic legislation and they are definitely worthy of being debated, scrutinized and subject to amendment.

    if one of those “balance of power” parties ever chooses to block a bill, chances are it’s dead

    Yep. And if that bill is contrary to the principles for which the minor party were elected, they are doing their job perfectly. That’s how democracy should work. Amend the bill so it appeals to more elected officials, and it won’t be so dead.

    And there’s the one thing the US does better than Australia: having a stronger tradition of crossing the floor. Party whips in Australia are too powerful, I’d like to see more ministers voting according to their electorate/conscience, not automatically toeing the party line. The fact that Abbott only beat Turnbull by a single vote in the last Lib leadership challenge should have informed the carbon tax debate much more than it did.

  12. thebookofdave says

    I can’t wait to find out whether the decision goes up for appeal. Cuz when the Florida Supreme Court rules on an election process dispute, you know that’s the final word.

  13. dingojack says

    Sundoga – “In both cases, the usual result is for no one to have the power to actually do anything.”

    Yep, see the Gillard Ministry. Oh wait….

    @@
    Dingo

  14. sundoga says

    As I recall, the Gillard ministry had a lock on both houses through their alliance with the Greens. Which is great for the Labs, but is biting the Libs badly. 8 seats are held by single-position parties or extremist parties, which means any legislation is being held hostage by groups whose actual political positions are basically unknown by the Australian electorate. I do not believe that the will of the Australian people or the needs of good government are being met by elevating tiny parties with little support to the top of the decision making pyramid.
    However, Suido, I fully agree on the “crossing the floor” issue. I just honestly believe the US gets it better on most other areas too.

  15. Suido says

    @Sundoga #19:

    The issue of micro parties is hardly a complete failing of the system. It’s a blip, I fully expect that to be fixed in the coming years as it’s in the interest of both major parties.

    I would dispute the 8 figure – 3 of those are PUP, and while people might not have known any policy details, they knew what they wanted when they voted – Palmer making life difficult for every other politician. Australians want a smaller third party in the senate – once it was the Democrats, then the Greens, now PUP. Obviously the Democrats were the most centrist of those, but much like the US, Australians have a healthy suspicion of giving too much power to a single party.

    Could you define “most other areas”?
    The first things that come to my mind are examples of what the US does worse – gerrymandering districts, private financing of elections, electing judges and sheriffs, voluntary voting, etc.

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