All of the secrecy and back-room dealing that marked the state Legislature’s sordid redistricting process has come undone with a Florida Supreme Court ruling Thursday.
And rightfully so. In a 5-2 decision, the court found the Legislature’s redistricting process in 2012, and the resulting congressional boundaries, were “tainted by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents.”
The court ordered eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts to be redrawn. Two of them, District 13 occupied by U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, and District 14 occupied by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, are among the eight districts.
The ruling validates claims by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other voter-rights groups that sued over the Legislature’s blatant disregard for two constitutional amendments voters passed in 2010. The amendments, passed by 63 percent of the voters, instructed lawmakers to draw the district boundaries fairly and without benefit to the incumbent party. Lawmakers responded by promising transparency.
What they delivered was anything but transparency. Testimony during a civil trial over the redistricting process pulled the curtain back on the partisan shenanigans that subverted the will of the people. Secret meetings were held, documents were destroyed and Republican consultants were allowed to influence the process.
This is what happens when one party dominates the political landscape, whether it be Republican or Democrat. There is a feeling of invulnerability and an arrogance that infects the process. What happened with the redistricting process isn’t too different from what happened this year with Amendment 1 and the voters’ desire to protect environmentally sensitive lands. Despite getting nearly 75 percent of the vote, the amendment’s dictates were largely ignored by lawmakers.
Perhaps that’s because many of them are safely ensconced in political districts that are heavily weighted with voters from their party. That’s why drawing fair district boundaries matter, and why this redistricting case is so critical.
By keeping the districts contiguous where possible, and not favoring any political party, a more competitive political process can flourish and a more measured politician can have a chance of winning, rather than the ideologues who adhere to a straight party line.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled voters in Arizona could create an independent redistricting commission rather than rely on partisan state lawmakers to draw the lines. We’ve advocated Florida consider that model, though no system will entirely cleanse the process of political influences.
The lawmakers who drew Florida’s tainted lines have fought the legal challenges every step of the way. Anticipating that push-back, the state Supreme Court urged lawmakers to “consider making all decisions on the redrawn map in public view.”
Failing to do that would be another insult to the people they represent.