The Political Warning in a Florida Redistricting Ruling

Linda Killian | The Wall Street Journal | 07/15/2014

A Florida court ruling striking down part of the state’s congressional map is notable for its impassioned admonition of the unchecked power of political parties for whom “winning is everything.”

The 41-page ruling last week, by Judge Terry Lewis of the state’s second judicial circuit, ordered several congressional districts in central Florida to be redrawn. It said Republican political consultants influenced the process and that districts had been drawn to protect incumbents and Republican seats.

Judge Lewis began by quoting George Washington’s farewell address, in which Washington warned of the danger of political parties to “subvert the power of the people and [to] usurp for themselves the reins of government.” Washington counseled the American people to be vigilant to “discourage and restrain” political parties.

“Washington’s fears have been realized,” Judge Lewis wrote.

The judge determined that Florida’s 5th District, represented by Democrat Corrine Brown, and its Tenth District, represented by Republican Daniel Webster, must be redrawn along with surrounding districts.

The decision is likely to be appealed to Florida’s Supreme Court, but it is unlikely that any changes would be made before the November elections.

The lawsuit was brought by the Florida League of Women Voters and other groups. Judge Lewis ruled that the districts at issue violated amendments to the Florida Constitution, passed by voters in 2010, that forbade drawing legislative districts to protect a political party or incumbent.

Republican political consultants, the judge wrote, had a significant impact on the drawing of Florida’s legislative districts and were trying to conceal their influence and “avoid admitting what they had done” during the legal proceedings. The case “goes to the very foundation of our representative democracy,” he wrote.

In our democratic system, voters should be picking their representatives rather than politicians picking their voters to ensure their own reelection. This could be assured if more states followed the example of California, which has taken the power for drawing legislative districts from politicians and given it to a citizens redistricting commission.

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