GOP lawmaker: Subpoena Florida Supreme Court justices in redistricting battle

Gray Rohrer | Orlando Sentinel | 07/31/2015

TALLAHASSEE – Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, is not too pleased with the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to throw out congressional districts drawn by the Legislature, specifically ruling eight districts out of compliance with the constitution.

He’d like to have a chat with the justices who made that ruling. If they don’t want to talk, he’d like to subpoena them.

Hill sent a letter Thursday to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, slamming the court’s decision as usurping the Legislature’s authority to draw new districts.

“The Florida Supreme Court is playing at a most dangerous game. Under the guise of interpreting (the state constitution), the Court is systematically rewriting the Constitution,” the letter begins.

Hill called on Crisafulli to either not pass any new maps, or in lieu of that, ask the justices to attend committee meetings to help lawmakers abide by the parameters of their ruling.

“The Florida Supreme Court has gone too far. I thus propose the following. First, we should not draw Florida’s Congressional Districts. We have undertaken this task twice before only to be told that we did not comply with ever-changing judicial standards.

“Second, should we decide (or be compelled) to redraw Congressional Districts, we should invite the Florida Supreme Court to appear before us so that they might first share with us their thoughts on redistricting. This open and transparent discussion would be consistent with the Florida Supreme Court’s own decisions. It would also allow us to ask questions of the Justices so that we might better comply with the Redistricting Amendments while bringing an end to this game of redistricting ping-pong to which we have become unwilling participants,” the letter states.

Should justices decline the Legislature’s invitation, Hill recommends using lawmakers’ subpoena powers.

“We should exercise our subpoena powers under Article 5, Section III of the Florida Constitution to compel their attendance, and compel the disclosure of their papers,” Hill states.

The ruling set a new precedent by interpreting the Fair Districts amendments passed by voters in 2010 that prohibit new districts being passed that intentionally “favor or disfavor” incumbents, political parties or minority groups, and calling for districts to be compact and contiguous.

The 5-2 ruling declared the Legislature violated the amendments by passing new congressional and state Senate districts supported by GOP consultants that favor the Republican Party. GOP consultants drew up maps and submitted them in public meetings through proxies, the ruling states based on trial court evidence.

The ruling specifically threw out eight congressional districts, including Congressional District 5, currently held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville. The district snakes down from Jacksonville to Orlando, expanding along the way to draw in parts of Gainesville to help create a minority access district for African-Americans.

The ruling encourages lawmakers to draw an east-west CD 5 instead of the current north-south divide. The east-west district could still provide for a minority district, but that would allow minority voters in Central Florida to be swallowed up by surrounding districts that lean Republican. Democrats, obviously, favor an east-west district. Hill didn’t appreciate that portion of the court’s ruling either.

“The Court also redrew Florida’s 5th Congressional District, discarding the district drawn by the Legislature’s professional staff in favor of a district drawn under the auspices of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” Hill stated.

Hill also took issue with the decision by the courts to allow lawmakers to be deposed in conjunction with the trial – overturning the legislative privilege lawmakers enjoy in most litigation – and quoted the Federalist Papers to make his case.

“The Federalist Papers remind us that ‘the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many . . . may be justly pronounced the very definition of tyranny.’ James Madison, Federalist No. 47. The Florida Supreme Court seems to have forgotten this most basic tenet.”

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