Judge to ask Supreme Court for remapping advice

Bill Cotterell | Tallahassee Democrat | 08/25/2015

With the House and Senate "at loggerheads" over congressional redistricting, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis decided on Tuesday to ask the Florida Supreme Court what to do next.

The state Senate, meanwhile, asked the justices not to hand off the complex case to Lewis just yet. The chairman of the Senate redistricting committee said – despite the failure of their special session last Friday – legislators ought to try again to realign the state's 27 congressional districts.

"I don't feel I have the authority to do anything," Lewis told attorneys for the Legislature and plaintiffs in the redistricting suit. "I'm just going to ask them what they want me to do."

Lewis said he would send his request to the Supreme Court "first thing in the morning."

The League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and some individual voters sued to overturn the Legislature's 2012 congressional redistricting plan under the 2012"Fair Districts Florida" constitutional amendments. Those edicts forbid gerrymandering to favor either political party, or to protect incumbents in Congress and the Legislature.

Lewis last year found two districts illegally drawn and lawmakers had a special session to fix them. But the plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled on July 9 that eight districts were illegally crafted to favor Republicans – who control both chambers of the Legislature.

A two-week special session ended on Friday with the House and Senate refusing to budge on their divergent plans. The House on Monday asked the Supreme Court to let Lewis hold hearings and decide between those plans, or to consider further alterations.

David King, an Orlando attorney for the League of Women Voters, said the plaintiffs will submit some map changes of their own.

"It seems very apparent to us that the Legislature is at loggerheads," King told Lewis.

Senate redistricting chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, attended the brief hearing. Afterward, he said legislators should do all they can to draw the district lines, rather than leaving it to the courts.

"To me, it's squandering an opportunity if we don't at least give it another try," he said. "We're the Legislature; it's not always smooth, it's not always easy."

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