Score this round for Florida voters.
In a ruling Thursday that threw out the state’s congressional district map, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found that legislators had violated their “constitutional duty” to draw districts without gerrymandering them to favor incumbents or their parties. It was the voters who imposed that duty in 2010 when they approved the Fair
Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.
The process that Lewis described in his ruling was anything but fair for voters.
The judge concluded that the map legislators redrew and approved in 2012 bore the fingerprints of Republican political operatives. While legislators were holding public hearings on redistricting around the state and trumpeting the most transparent process ever, the operatives were working behind the scenes on the maps “in the shadow of that process,” the judge wrote.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, which spearheaded the successful Fair Districts campaign in 2010, also led the coalition that challenged the 2012 map. That coalition deserves credit for what Lewis called its “determined efforts” to expose the consultants’ “efforts to influence the redistricting process.”
Last month, based on the incriminating evidence in the trial that led to this week’s ruling — including map sharing between legislators’ offices and operatives, secret meetings and deleted emails — we expressed our own doubts that the process had respected the will of the voters. Lewis’ ruling, unfortunately, validates those doubts.
The judge flagged two districts on the congressional map, both in Central Florida.
One, held by 11-term Democrat Corrine Brown , snakes its way from Jacksonville to Orlando, encompassing parts of eight counties. Changes to the district for the 2012 map took in more Democratic voters, making it even safer for Brown while making the surrounding districts safer for Republican candidates.
The other district, centered in West Orange County and held by two-term Republican Dan Webster, includes an appendage on its east side that makes it friendlier for GOP candidates.
The judge stopped short of blaming legislative leaders themselves for rigging any districts, but he was skeptical that they didn’t know about the key role consultants were playing. Regardless, those leaders are responsible for the outcome of the process. The buck stops with them.
Still in denial, they’re expected to appeal the decision. The case could wind up in the state Supreme Court and delay any redrawing of congressional maps until after this year’s elections.
Perhaps it’s predictable that politicians would try an end run around a mandate — even one from voters — to conduct an apolitical redistricting process. That doesn’t make it any more forgivable, or less infuriating.
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