Florida Republicans Last Ditch Effort To Preserve Gerrymandered Districts

KIRA LERNER | Think Progress | 08/07/2015

Two Florida Republican Party chairman filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday claiming the state’s redistricting law, which prohibits lawmakers from drawing districts that favor a certain party, violates their First Amendment right to free speech and constitutes “government thought policing.”

The Florida legislature is set to meet starting next week to redraw many of the state’s congressional districts, eight of which were drawn improperly to favor the Republican Party, the state Supreme Court ruled last month. Florida has some of the most partisan gerrymandered districts in the country, with Republicans controlling 17 of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

The lawsuit was filed by Pasco County Republican Party Chairman Randy Maggard and Walton County Chairman Tim Norris against Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner. According to the complaint, they claim their rights are being violated “because if they exercise their First Amendment right to communicate with their legislators or the legislature as a whole about the legislative and congressional redistricting process, they risk being deemed to have ‘infected’ any adopted redistricting plans.”

Max Steele, communications director for the Florida Democratic Party, called the lawsuit “laughable” and a “last desperate attempt” to stop the process of redrawing the state’s districts.

“Tenuous legal ground is an understatement,” Steele told ThinkProgress. “The writing is on the wall — they’re moving forward with this. It’s too little too late and it’s not thought policing to say that the voters clearly laid out, in the Fair Districts amendments, that they wanted an end to the process of partisan gerrymandering.”

In 2010, Florida voters approved “Fair Districts” amendments which made it illegal for lawmakers to draw districts to favor a certain party or candidate. As they stood in the past, Florida’s maps were the most biased districts in the country, according to one expert. In 2014, Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature unveiled revised maps after a judge ordered the previous ones to be redrawn, but the new maps looked strikingly similar to the old ones. The judge went on to approve the new maps and said the state could use the old ones in the 2014 election, despite the fact that they were ruled unconstitutional.

In the special legislative session beginning next week, the state Republican lawmakers are expected to finally come to terms with their past mistakes and to come up with constitutional districts. The legislature issued a series of instructions ahead of the session, including that lawmakers avoid communications that might be construed as an effort to favor a certain party. The party chairman named in the lawsuit claim this stipulation, intended to keep the process fair, violates their First Amendment rights.

But Steele said the legal action is just a last-ditch effort to extend the inevitable redistricting process.

“The Republican leadership in Tallahassee has recognized that they got it wrong the first two times and they’re promising to do right this third time,” he said.

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