Redistricting lawsuit: Supreme Court hands Legislature second loss in recent weeks

Matt Dixon | PolitiJax | 07/11/2013

The Florida Supreme Court has said lower courts have jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of the state’s newly-drawn political lines, according to an opinion released Thursday.

It’s the latest in a lawsuit filed by a coalition of plaintiffs argue the newly-drawn state Senate maps violate the Fair District amendments, which were designed to take politics out of the redistricting process. Among the coalition are the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida.

Attorneys representing the Legislature argued that only the Supreme Court has authority to review redistricting maps, and because the court approved them during a 30-day review period after lawmakers passed them, they should not face a second round of scrutiny.

By a 5-2 decision, the court disagreed. Justices Peggy Quince, Barbara Parient, Fred Lewis, James Perry, Jorge Labarga comprised the majority, while Justice Charles Canady and Chief Justice Ricky Polston dissented.

They were only considering state Senate maps, not those drawn for the House. The court approved the House maps on their first review, but initially swatted the Senate maps. After a redraw, the court deemed them “constitutionally valid.”

In the majority opinion, penned by Pariente, justices said the court’s 30-day review of redistricting maps is limited, and does not include the scrutiny that a lower court can provide.

“The Legislature’s interpretation of this provision, which would preclude any challenges to the plan outside the thirty-day review period…directly contravenes the purpose of the 2010 [Fair District] amendment and undermines the will of the voters,” she wrote.

In his blistering dissenting opinion, Canady said the majority ignored the state constitution, instead relying on past opinions that also did not consider the constitution.

“Rather than addressing this unambiguous text, the majority relies on…prior opinions that also failed to reckon with the constitutional text,” he wrote.

The opinion is the legislature’s second loss before the high court in recent weeks.

Last week, the court agreed to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that lawmakers don’t have to testify as part of the case.

Attorneys for the Legislature had argued that “legislative privilege,” or legal protections offered to lawmakers while they are conducting legislative business, should prevent them from testifying. The First District Court of Appeals agreed, but the court said it would hear the case.

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