Florida Lawmakers Won't Challenge Redistricting Ruling

Andrew Harris and Christine Sexton | Bloomberg News | 07/15/2014

Florida’s legislative leaders won’t seek reversal of last week’s ruling by a state judge that said boundaries of two of 27 congressional districts are illegal and must be redrawn, while seeking to keep the existing map for this year’s elections.

State Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, both Republicans, said today in a statement that while they won’t appeal Tallahassee Judge Terry Lewis’s July 10 decision, they want him to clarify how soon those district lines must be revised.

In a court filing today, the lawmakers said the primary elections set for Aug. 26 and the Nov. 4 general election should be conducted under the existing map to avoid “turmoil.”

Immediate redistricting will adversely affect voting in the this year’s elections, for which 63,000 Florida military and overseas voters are already casting absentee ballots based on the current map, the legislators said in their statement.

“The election calendar is filled with carefully calibrated, mutually dependent deadlines that cannot be altered without irreparable damage to the election process,” Weatherford and Gaetz said.

While Lewis upheld the boundaries for seven districts, he found that two were illegally constituted and needed to be revised.

District Redrawn

“Any surrounding districts affected by such a change must likewise be redrawn,” he said. Still, the judge stopped short of saying when this must occur, saying only he would retain jurisdiction over the case to enter orders “as may be necessary” for his ruling to take effect.

Lewis has scheduled a phone conference with lawyers on July 17 to discuss the case.

Lewis’s ruling came in lawsuits by groups including the League of Women Voters that objected to the boundaries created in 2012. Objectors said that effort, led by Weatherford and Gaetz, resulted in a map favoring Republicans over Democrats, violating a 2010 state constitutional amendment that prohibited political line drawing known as gerrymandering.

“Specifically forbidden is the drawing of a redistricting plan with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent,” according to the court’s ruling.

The plaintiffs accused state lawmakers of conspiring with consultants to draw districts that favored Republicans. The 2 ½-week trial featured testimony from the Republican consultants who helped draw the maps and denied any wrongdoing.

Time Short

The challengers’ coalition yesterday filed papers urging the court to quickly take up the issue. “In light of forthcoming congressional elections, time is of the essence,” they said.

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