Fred Grimm: Winning lawsuit over redistricting is as bad as losing

Fred Grimm | Miami Herald | 07/17/2014

It’s as if you spotted someone cruising around in the family sedan that had been swiped from your driveway. Sorry, the thief says, but he can’t return the car just now. Maybe in 2016. Sooner than that would cause nothing but “chaos and confusion.”

Except, it wasn’t a car that was stolen. Just a fair election.

The very legislative leadership that allowed political “consultants and operatives” to flout the Florida Constitution and hijack the congressional redistricting process told a judge Tuesday that they’d eventually “enact a remedial plan consistent with this Court’s judgment.”

But not until after the 2014 elections.

Floridians will just have to go along with illegal, gerrymandered district maps because — darn it all — it’s just too late to fix them now. “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.”

Soldiers must be weary of politicians who invoke “our uniformed men and women overseas” for crass and self-serving motives. Besides, Florida’s deployed military voters might think they also have a right to legal elections.

After a trial last month in a lawsuit challenging the district map passed by the 2012 Legislature, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that two of the state’s 27 congressional districts, in North and Central Florida, were illegally drawn. Any attempt to fix them would surely set off a domino effect on neighboring districts.

In the past, courts might have allowed the Legislature to adopt, as Judge Lewis put it, “maps that have unusual boundaries and bizarre shapes, as if some abstract artist had been given free rein,” and districts contrived to protect the seats held by the Legislature’s dominant party.

But in 2010, Florida voters overwhelmingly voted for the Fair Districts Amendments designed to eliminate political gerrymandering.

Last week, Judge Lewis ruled that Republican Party operatives had been allowed to “infiltrate and influence” the 2012 redistricting process and subvert the Legislature’s constitutional mandate. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process . . . going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it,” Lewis wrote.

The judge said the consultants “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent. There is just too much circumstantial evidence of it, too many coincidences, for me to conclude otherwise.”

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz indicated in a motion filed Tuesday that they won’t appeal the decision. Instead they’ll just dawdle, arguing that they can’t fix the gerrymandered districts now “without irreparable damage.” So losing the lawsuit becomes no worse than winning.

In his opinion, Judge Lewis quoted George Washington who warned that political parties, if unchecked, might “subvert the power of the people and usurp for themselves the reins of government.”

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

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