Supreme Court rejects Senate redistricting plan, validates House lines

Paul Flemming[ck_comma] Florida Capital Bureau | Tallahassee Democrat | 03/10/2012

The Florida Supreme Court, in a much-awaited ruling, this morning invalidated the Legislature’s redistricting plan for state Senate lines.

Its 234-page ruling upheld as valid the plan submitted for state House districts. House Speaker Dean Cannon told members – meeting on the final day of this year’s regular session – that a special session would be scheduled to redraw the Senate lines.

All seven justices concurred, at least in part with the redistricting ruling, but they broke along familiar lines about the ruling that rejected the Senate plan.

Chief Justice Charles Canady dissented in part, ruling that he would have approved the Senate districts as well. Justice Ricky Polston concurred with Canady’s dissent.

“We declare the plan apportioning the districts for the Florida Senate to be constitutionally invalid under the Florida Constitution,” the majority opinion states. “The Legislature is now tasked by the Florida Constitution with adopting a new joint resolution of apportionment ― conforming to the judgment of the supreme court‖ as set forth in article III, section 16(d).”

Canady and Polston disagreed.

"Because it has not been shown that the Legislature‘s choices in establishing the district lines in the Senate plan are without a rational basis under the applicable constitutional requirements, I would validate that plan," Canady wrote in his dissent.

The majority opinion said the Senate plan failed to determine when requirements of the new Fair Districts amendment, approved by voters in 2010, conflicted and should yield to federal minority-protection provisions. Justices found other problems, too.

The constitutional amendment prohibits lawmakers from favoring or harming any candidate or party. It requires districts to be as compact as possible and, where possible, to keep existing counties and cities intact within legislative districts. The majority opinion said that without the Fair Districts amendment — proponents argued
that it was needed to stop gerrymandering in the process — both House and Senate plans would have been approved.

“Additionally, we conclude that the Senate plan is rife with objective indicators of improper intent,” the majority opinion stated.

Justices had particular problems with eight particular proposed Senate districts. Further, the district numbering system – used to determine the timing of re-elections – was faulty.

“Finally, we declare the numbering scheme to be invalid because it was intended to benefit incumbents by making them eligible to serve for longer periods of time than they would have otherwise been eligible to serve,” the majority wrote. “Accordingly, the Senate plan does not pass constitutional muster, and it is our duty under the Florida Constitution to declare it invalid.”

Lawmakers quickly responded to the ruling.

“The Supreme Court saw the same troubling issues of discrimination and favoritism as the Senate Democrats who

voted against these maps, and which go against every fiber of the Constitution’s new anti-gerrymandering amendments overwhelmingly passed by the majority of Florida’s voters,” said Sen. Nan Rich, leader of Senate Democrats.

Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, next in line to be speaker of the House and chairman of the House’s reapportionment committee, said he was proud of the work his committee did.

"We should all be proud today for having worked so hard on a legally compliant map," Weatherford said. He thanked the state for "the trust and faith you instilled in me through the most difficult political time of my life."

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