Florida congresswoman tries to block changes to district

Gary Fineout | Associate Press | 08/13/2015

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida congresswoman is asking a federal judge to block state lawmakers from changing her congressional district.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown filed a lawsuit Wednesday in a Tallahassee federal court against the Florida Legislature and Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

The Jacksonville Democrat contends legislators will violate federal voting laws if they revamp her district in order to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling. The lawsuit comes as legislators are holding a special session to adopt a new map for the state's 27 congressional districts.

The court, in a stinging ruling, contended that the Republican-controlled Legislature violated voter-approved standards in eight districts, including the one held by Brown. Voters in 2010 approved the "Fair Districts" measures that mandate legislators cannot draw districts intended to help incumbents or a member of a political party.

The Supreme Court in its ruling told legislators that they should change Brown's district so that it would run east to west. It now stretches north to south, from Jacksonville to Orlando. An initial proposal drawn up by legislative staff would change the district so it runs from Jacksonville to west of Tallahassee.

Brown says the new district will dilute the voting strength of African-Americans. Voting data shows that the percentage of black voters in the district would drop from 48 percent to 45 percent.

"As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards," Brown said in a statement.

But it's not clear if a federal court would actually step in and try to stop the Legislature before a new map is approved.

Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who tracks redistricting cases nationally, said in an email that the lawsuit is "premature" until the new districts are actually voted on and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

Brown and other black leaders in central Florida had asked last week to intervene in an ongoing federal lawsuit. That lawsuit challenged the current shape of her district on the grounds that it creates "racial packing" by unnecessarily putting a large number of African-American voters together in a district. Brown and others opposed that lawsuit and had hoped to intervene to defeat it.

But the plaintiffs withdrew the suit Monday, which forced Brown to pursue a new legal challenge.

Legislative panels in the House and Senate are expected to take their first votes on a new congressional map on Thursday.

The initial map drawn up by legislative staff and lawyers would lead to a dramatic shift of Florida's political landscape. If ultimately adopted by legislators, several incumbent members of Congress — including U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster — could find it hard to hold on to their current seats. The new map could also help resurrect the political career of former Gov. Charlie Crist, who will likely mount a run for a reconfigured House seat in Pinellas County.

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