Judge Tosses Two House Districts in Florida Redistricting Trial

Bridget Bowman | Roll Call | 07/10/2014

A federal judge ruled Thursday two Florida House districts violated the state’s constitution, following a dramatic trial that questioning the state’s recently redrawn boundaries following the 2010 U.S. Census.

It is still unclear whether the ruling will affect the 2014 elections.

Judge Terry Lewis ruled the 5th and 10th Districts, held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown and Republican Rep. Daniel Webster, respectively, violated the state constitution’s Fair District Amendments. He said the districts violated the 2010 amendments because they are not compact and were drawn to favor the Republican Party. The judge had some strong words for the Republican operatives and consultants that he ruled influenced the redistricting process.

“They made a mockery of the legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process,” the judge continued, “utilizing the access it gave them to decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.”

A Democratic source familiar with state party politics said that party attorneys will be digesting the ruling into the night of Thursday and Friday. The key question, the source said, was how much the changes to Brown and Webster’s districts will affect the other seats.

The 5th District includes parts of Orlando and extends north to Jacksonville. The 10th District includes neighboring Orlando territory and the area west of the city.

David King, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview Thursday evening the ruling “will have an impact on the districts in central Florida. That was one of major areas we had focused on in the trial.”

Dr. Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida, said in a Thursday phone interview that redrawing those two districts would likely have a ripple effect in central Florida and could affect other areas of the state.

While there are a number of possible scenarios, he speculated a number of the districts in the north and central part of the state would be affected. “That’s probably where you’re going to see the largest effect,” said McDonald.

The professor added the changes could also impact the western part of the state. The redistricting is “going to likely ripple all the way over to 13,” said

McDonald, referring to the St. Petersburg and Clearwater-based coastal district where Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., won a contested special election earlier this year.

But the question remains whether the districts will have to be redrawn for the 2014 elections.

McDonald said that the judge would likely file a separate motion in the coming days to indicate whether districts should be redrawn for this cycle. King also said that he expects to be in front of Judge Lewis as early as next week to discuss the judge’s remedy.

McDonald suspected the quick ruling could be an indication the judge wants to the map redrawn before November.

“I suspect that it’s going be something else because Judge Lewis worked on a fast track on this,” said MacDonald, adding, “I think that he’s going to do something here before the 2014 elections.”

McDonald noted, however, that “the clock is running out.” The filing deadline has passed and the primaries are scheduled for Aug. 26.

Yet McDonald said the anticipated appeals process could reach the Florida State Supreme Court, which could agree with Judge Lewis’ ruling but also rule that the districts be redrawn for the 2016.

King agreed that the case would likely be decided by the state’s high court. “If there is an appeal we will be in position to defend, you can be sure of that,” he said.

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

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