Fair Districts group proposes to break up Corrine Brown's district, threatens further legal action

Aaron Deslatte | Orlando Sentinel | 07/23/2014

TALLAHASSEE—On the eve of a hearing in which a judge is set to decide whether to allow congressional elections with unconstitutional maps to go forward this year, the groups that sued to block the plan are asking him to re-draw the maps and push back the election.

Lawyers for the League of Women Voters of Florida and other plaintiffs have filed a proposed re-drawing of the offending congressional map in Central Florida, which would dis-assemble Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s currently meandering seat that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando. It would also box off Republican Rep. Dan Webster’s sprawling Polk to Orlando seat by removing a “finger-like appendage” which the court found improperly packed white Republicans in his district.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled earlier this month that the Florida Legislature’s congressional map violated the 2010 anti-gerrymandering reforms voter passed, thanks to evidence presented at trial that a handful of GOP political operatives had gamed the system to get more favorable maps submitted to the Legislature.

The seats of Brown and Webster suffered the brunt of the judge’s ruling, and must be re-drawn at some point.

But with absentee ballots already being mailed, Lewis is set to hear what both the Legislature and plaintiffs propose to do about it the seats at a Thursday hearing. He could make a decision from the bench, and if he decides to force a special election or for the courts to re-draw the maps, the Legislature could appeal.

Conversely, the LWV lawyers argued in their filing Wednesday that if the court doesn’t require significant changes to the district, they could continue with their legal challenge. The ruling finds fault with relatively minor sections of the two congressional seats, and legislative lawyers have suggested they could make minor changes to fix them.

The League’s lawyers have proposed several options for submitting maps, and pushing back primary and general elections as far as March 2015.

“Legislative Defendants argue that the citizens of Florida must endure a second congressional election under an unconstitutional map because of their cynical strategy to ‘run out the clock,’” the plaintiffs wrote. “Worse, Legislative Defendants contend they should be allowed to draw the remedial map. And they have signaled their intent only to make minor adjustments to the affected districts in the 2012 Congressional Plan under an unduly narrow, self-serving interpretation of this Court’s ruling, leaving Plaintiffs to bring yet another challenge.

“If Legislative Defendants are allowed to once again avoid constitutional constraints that the voters have placed upon them, it will be a stain on the state of Florida and engender even greater public mistrust in elected officials,” they continued.

“This Court has already found that Legislative Defendants engaged in ‘necessary cooperation and collaboration’ with the political operatives who by their conspiracy made a ‘mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process ... and were successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan.’ ... Allowing Legislative Defendants, the intentional violators of Florida’s

Constitution, to devise their own ‘remedy’ for their misconduct would only propagate that mockery and provide the Legislature with yet another opportunity to violate the public’s trust.”

Copyright © 2014, Orlando Sentinel

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