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.