Yep, we’re guilty, the Florida Senate says: our districts are unconstitutional.
The Senate made the surprising concession in a court filing Tuesday that points to a quicker finish to a three-year legal dispute over redistricting, the once-a-decade carving of the political map to determine who represents whom.
“An unprecedented admission,” said David King, an attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. “The Florida Senate has admitted that they drew an unconstitutional map and, as a consequence of that, they now have agreed to fix the problem.”
In a consent order, the Senate conceded that unnamed senators violated the state constitution by mapping out some districts to benefit the dominant Republican Party – a big snub to the clear majority (63 percent) of voters in 2010 who approved the Fair District amendments. These say the Legislature cannot draw districts with the “intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent.”
To put it more bluntly, this means that certain state Senators put their careers and interests ahead of Florida voters. One could even argue that by admitting violating the Fair District amendments, they violated the people’s trust. They should count themselves fortunate that the plaintiffs were focused less on retribution and more on creating fairer elections in 2016 and beyond.
With this week’s agreement, the Senate will take another crack at mapping districts in a special session starting in October. It must then prove to the court that its map follows the constitution, rather than the plaintiffs having to prove that the districts are unconstitutional.
If this sounds familiar, it is. Just three weeks ago, the Florida Supreme Court struck down eight of the state’s 27congressional districts for very similar reasons.
Legislature set a special session in August to redraw the congressional map.
Yes, that’s right. We can now look forward to two special sessions on everyone’s favorite subject, redistricting.
If you’re keeping score, that makes three special sessions for the year — all necessitated by apparent violations by the Legislature of the state constitution. The first, you’ll remember, was called in June after the House fled town before the main session ended, in a pique over healthcare spending.
The Senate may have lost some face in admitting wrongdoing, but top Republican consultants and legislative leaders gained something. They avoid testifying in the lawsuit – a lawsuit they were unlikely to win, given how the congressional case went. According to Politico, early court documents in the 2012 suit indicated that at least nine maps drawn by outside political consultants were submitted to the redistricting committee through third parties – the same method, with some of the same consultants, as the congressional map was drawn.
It’s too bad that the individual senators and consultants who played major roles in this scheme won’t be testifying, their deeds dodging the spotlight. And unlike the congressional case, the judge did not issue a prescriptive order spelling out precisely which districts to redraw.
Nonetheless, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause have done voters a great service in pursuing these lawsuits and bringing the state’s legislators to account. But now these same legislators will be challenged again to succeed at what they have had such a hard time doing until now – draw legislative maps in an apolitical way.
As we’ve said before, we are highly doubtful they can do it. It’s simply not in politicians’ nature to put politics aside. We would far prefer to see this process placed in the hands of an independent, non-partisan commission. State Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, told The Post Editorial Board that he and some colleagues plan to introduce a bill that does just that. We wish them the best.