STATE ASKS JUDGE TO TOSS SENATE MAP CHALLENGE

BRANDON LARRABEE | THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA | 12/19/2012

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, December 19, 2012.......Lawyers for the Legislature asked a Leon County judge on Wednesday to throw out a lawsuit seeking to scrap the current districts for the Senate because the Florida Supreme Court had already rejected a challenge to the lines.

The dispute, in a case filed by a group of citizens and a coalition of voting rights groups against the Senate map, plows new ground and could set a standard in a redistricting environment altered by the approval in 2010 of the "Fair Districts" amendments aimed at ending gerrymandered districts.

Courts have already been forced to grapple with several new issues after lawmakers' first effort, earlier this year, to follow the rules during the once-a-decade redistricting process.

At issue in this case is a statement the constitution makes in a different section about the Supreme Court's automatic review of legislative redistricting maps: "A judgment of the supreme court of the state determining the apportionment to be valid shall be binding upon all the citizens of the state."

The motion to dismiss the challenge to Senate districts would not affect a similar effort to overturn the current maps for the state's congressional delegation because those plans are not reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Because justices approved a second draft of the Senate map — they voided the first draft — in April, attorneys for the House and Senate said Wednesday there was no room for new challenges.

"There is not a case anywhere to refute the notion that the Florida Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over redistricting matters as it relates to the requirements in the state constitution," said George Meros, who represented the House during Wednesday's arguments.

The groups challenging the map, though, said the Supreme Court's review is meant only to handle "facial" challenges to the map that are easy to detect. More fact intensive challenges can still be heard later, said Adam Schachter, an attorney for the map's opponents.

Schachter said a full-fledged trial on the Senate maps could turn up evidence that the Supreme Court wasn't able to recover, and could prove that lawmakers broke the new constitutional standards that bar lawmakers from twisting lines for political or personal advantage.

Those kinds of challenges have to be heard to enforce the Fair Districts standards, he said.

"If it doesn't happen here, it won't happen," Schachter said. "And that means that amendment, which the citizens have made the law of this land, will be nothing more than words on a page."

Lewis said he would try to rule on the state's motion soon.


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