Florida GOP won't appeal redistricting ruling

Valerie Garman | The News Herald | 07/15/2014

PANAMA CITY — Florida Senate President Don Gaetz expected bumps in the process to redraw the state’s congressional districts under the “Fair Districts” amendments voters approved in 2010 to protect against gerrymandering.

“We knew that we would not be able to find our way through all of this without some bumps,” Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Tuesday following a decision by Republicans in the Florida Legislature to not appeal a judge’s ruling that found the districts unconstitutional.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found two of Florida’s 27 Congressional Districts, districts 5 and 10, unconstitutional and ordered them redrawn.

While the fair voting amendments require districts to be roughly equal in population and use obvious geographic boundaries as borders, District 5 — U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, holds the seat — zigzags from Jacksonville and through Central Florida. District 10 borders District 5 in Central Florida, and the seat is held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster.

Gaetz, however, defended the decision to draw the districts under the Voting Rights Act, which protects the rights of minority voters in the U.S.

“We thought that we had done what the Voting Rights Act required us to do in terms of a majority-minority district,” Gaetz said during an interview with

The News Herald’s editorial board. “We’ll redraw the boundaries of those two districts, but 25 of 27 districts were left intact,” including those in Northwest Florida.

However, Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford are pushing to delay redrawing districts until the 2016 congressional election.

“We want to make sure that the ballots that have already been mailed to our service men and women overseas — about 65,000 ballots have already been sent — that the voting rights of those uniformed military families would be protected,” Gaetz said.

Because the judge reserved jurisdiction over some aspects of the case, the affected parties will attend a status conference with Lewis on Thursday to discuss the next step. It will be up to Lewis to decide whether to let the Legislature redraw the maps. His ruling last week did not specify who should redraw the map or when it should be redrawn.

“We feel the judge was fair,” Gaetz said. “We believe his ruling can be complied with, and we fully intend to comply with his ruling.”

TALLAHASSEE — Republicans who control Florida’s Legislature said Tuesday that they will not appeal a landmark ruling that found that the state’s map for congressional districts unconstitutional.

An earlier version of this story is posted below:

But Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford said in a joint statement that they want to postpone drawing a new map until after the 2014 elections.

Gaetz and Weatherford said changing district boundaries now would cause problems for this year’s elections. They noted that absentee ballots for the state’s Aug. 26 primary have already been sent to overseas voters.

“Any attempt to change the districts at this late stage of the 2014 elections process would cause chaos and confusion and would threaten the rights of our deployed military voters,” the statement says.

A circuit judge ruled last week that the Legislature illegally drew Florida’s congressional districts to primarily benefit the Republican Party. Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two of the state’s 27 congressional districts were invalid and that the map must be redrawn.

The landmark decision comes in the first serious test of the “Fair Districts” amendments adopted by the state’s voters in 2010. Those standards said legislators could no longer draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as gerrymandering.

The first district that Lewis ruled invalid is a sprawling one, stretching from Jacksonville to Orlando. U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, holds the seat. The second is a central Florida district. The seat is held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.

The legislative leaders’ statement noted that Lewis did not find several other congressional seats invalid and even stated that other districts could remain intact.

But it will be up to Lewis now to decide whether to let the Legislature redraw the maps. His ruling last week did not specify who should redraw the maps or when it should be redrawn. The coalition of groups that sued the Legislature filed a motion Monday asking Lewis to hold a hearing to figure out what should happen next. The groups argue that with the 2014 elections looming, “time is of the essence for drawing a remedial congressional plan.”

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