Florida Judge Rejects Voter Districts Favoring GOPEdvard Pettersson and Toluse Olorunnipa
Florida’s congressional redistricting map, which opponents including the League of Women Voters said favors Republicans, was found by a judge to violate the state’s constitution and must be changed.
Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis in Tallahassee ruled that two districts were drawn to benefit Republicans and needed to be revised. Seven other districts that had been challenged as invalid don’t need to be redrawn, the judge said.
Yesterday’s ruling probably won’t affect Florida’s 27 Congressional districts before the midterm elections, which candidates have already qualified for. It could force Florida to revisit the once-a-decade redistricting process again before 2016 and draw more scrutiny across the U.S., where the dearth of competitive districts has contributed to political gridlock.
“Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” the judge said. “They made a mockery of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all this in the shadow of the process.”
Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, and Katie Betta, a spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, said they were reviewing the ruling and had no immediate comment on it. Weatherford and Gaetz, both Republicans, led the redistricting effort in 2012.
Florida voters approved constitutional amendments in 2010 that banned lawmakers from drawing political districts that favored a political party or incumbents.
After Florida’s Republican-led Legislature approved new maps in 2012, a coalition of voting rights groups sued, saying the districts violated the amendment.
The trial, which lasted 2 1/2 weeks, featured testimony from Republican consultants who helped draw the maps. The plaintiffs accused state lawmakers of conspiring with the consultants to draw districts that favored Republicans.
One of the two districts ruled invalid by Lewis is held by Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat. The serpentine district, which stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and includes several predominantly black communities, was “bizarrely shaped” to pack Democrats into a single jurisdiction, leaving neighboring districts more favorable to Republicans, Lewis said.
Brown, who is black, said in a statement that the ruling was “seriously flawed” and said it failed to protect minority voting rights.
Florida’s political primary is scheduled for Aug. 26.
The cases are Romo v. Detzner, 2012-CA-412, 2012-CA-490, Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit, Leon County, Florida (Tallahassee).