Florida Judge Doubts He Has Power to Redraw Congressional Maps

A Florida judge raised doubts about whether he has the power to postpone elections in order to put in place a new map covering the state’s 27 districts ahead of midterm Congressional elections.

Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis previously found the current map unconstitutional, but has yet to order a remedy. At the end of a hearing yesterday in Tallahassee, the state court judge said he was unsure if he has the resources to adopt a new map, or if he has the legal authority to delay elections as suggested by groups that challenged existing districts.

“I’m extremely skeptical I can do what the plaintiffs want me to do,” Lewis said. He told attorneys that he would seek to issue a ruling by the end of next week. The state’s primary election takes place Aug. 26.

Florida voters adopted new standards for redistricting in 2010 that were intended to end gerrymandering, stopping legislators from considering political parties or incumbents when drawing new districts.

A coalition of groups later sued, claiming the Republican-controlled state legislature worked with Republican consultants to craft maps beneficial to their party. Lewis ruled there was enough evidence to show two out of the state’s 27 districts violated those standards.

The Legislature, which said it wouldn’t appeal that decision, asked Lewis to wait until after mid-term elections before redrawing the districts. A lawyer for the Florida House said legislators should carve out the new districts.

New Map

David King, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters and other groups that sued, told Lewis that legislators shouldn’t be allowed to draw the new map, and he urged him to either accept a remedial map submitted by the plaintiffs, or hire an expert to help him.

“Allowing the folks that made a mockery of the process to redraw the maps adds insult to the injury,” said King, of King, Blackwell, Zehnder & Wermuth. George Meros, a lawyer with GrayRobinson representing the Florida House, maintained it remained the legal duty of the Legislature to craft a new map.

He added that moving election dates, as suggested by the interest groups, would create chaos. Meros said such changes may harm military voters, since one of the proposals submitted by the coalition would cut short the amount of days they would have to return ballots. Military ballots for the primary have already been sent overseas.

Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat whose district was ruled unconstitutional argued in a statement yesterday that redrawing the map would harm minority voting rights.

“The lawsuit concerning the Florida congressional district maps is, in reality, part of a bigger movement to diminish congressional districts represented by minorities across the nation,” she said. “And the plan is that if they are successful in Florida, they will continue to attack minority seats and minority voting rights in every state throughout the nation.”

The cases are Romo v. Detzner, 2012-CA-412, and League of Women Voters v. Detzner, 2012-CA-490, Leon County, Florida, Circuit Court, Second Judicial Circuit (Tallahassee).

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