Lawyers in voter-redistricting suit make their cases to the Florida Supreme Court

Matt Dixon | Jacksonville Times-Union | 09/16/2013

Tallahassee | A coalition of groups think that lawmakers should answer questions under oath about behind-the-scenes chatter that helped shape Florida’s political districts.

Attorneys for the state of Florida say that can’t happen under Florida’s constitution.

The decision will be made by the Florida Supreme Court, which on Monday heard oral arguments in the case. The dispute stems from a larger lawsuit challenging new political lines lawmakers approved in 2012.

At issue is so-called “legislative privilege,” or the legal protection that prevents lawmakers and staff from having to go under oath to explain things done as part of state business.

It’s “so a legislator does not get hauled into a court every time a bill is passed,” Justice Barbara Pariente said during oral arguments.

The First District Court of Appeals sided with the state, ruling that lawmakers should not have to testify.

The underlying lawsuit was filed by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters of Florida challenging the new map’s constitutionality. They argue the maps are at odds with the new Fair District amendments, which aimed to take politics out of the redistricting process.

Sandy D’Alemberte, a former head of the American Bar Association representing the coalition, said lawmakers and staff should have to testify because the amendments rely on lawmaker's “intent” to favor or disfavor a political party.

“We have constitutional provisions which specifically state intent is to be considered,” he said. “That discovery should be allowed as it relates to the intent of the Legislature.”

Justice Jorge Labara met the claim with skepticism.

“How would the Legislature function if each legislator was under the belief anything he or she may say to someone else may be something they will have to discuss under oath?” he asked.

Raul Cantero, a former Supreme Court Justice representing the Legislature, jumped on D’Alemberte’s acknowledgement that there is no other legal precedent for removing legislative privilege in redistricting cases.

“I just don’t think deposing legislators at all complies with the separation of powers,” he said.

Legislative privilege is one part of the redistricting lawsuit that has sparked political intrigue.

Both sides have unearthed emails showing the other side discussed redistricting maps with outside political consultants.

In one, a Democratic consultant said that the head of the Fair Districts push wanted to “scoop as many Jews” as they could into Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s south Florida district.

One Republican email shows state Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, asking an outside political firm, “what does this [map] do to my district?”

It is unclear when justices will issue a ruling.


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