Editorial: Supreme Court should tell lawmakers time’s up on map-making

Editorial Board | Palm Beach Post | 08/31/2015

The Florida Legislature, which has made a hash of redistricting at every turn, is now indicating that it wants more time to work out a compromise on drawing congressional districts. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has asked House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, for a sit-down that points to another special session, this time to consider a new, alternate map devised by Senate Redistricting chair Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Sorry, fellas. You had a shot at acting like leaders already in a 12-day special sessionthat cost the taxpayers $650,000. You failed spectacularly, and you ended up barely speaking with each other. Florida voters have suffered through enough of these political shenanigans and legislative dysfunction. Turn the job over as quickly as possible to the Florida Supreme Court.

We are in this pickle, remember, because the Legislature has been rebuked twice by the courts for devising maps that were “tainted” by unconstitutional intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents. On July 7, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to redraw eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts, as well as any affected adjacent districts.

When the special session to accomplish that collapsed with nothing but competing proposals from the House and Senate, no one seemed to know what to do next.

Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, who was supposed to receive and review whatever plan the special session produced, asked the Supreme Court for direction. The House asked that the case be given back to Lewis to conduct a trial to decide between House and Senate proposals. The Senate proposed Galvano’s map and another round of negotiations with the House, but

House Redistricting chair Jose Oliva, R-Miami, indicated it’s too late.

It is the League of Women Voters and Common Cause — the chief plaintiffs in the court cases that have exposed the Legislature’s chronic inability to draw legislative maps that are devoid of political intent — that have the best idea. They filed a brief on Thursday urging the state’s high court to reject the Legislature’s plea for more time, and for the justices to redraw the map themselves.

“The unique circumstances of the crisis created by the Legislature — hitting foul balls in its first two attempts and now striking out without a swing when given a third opportunity to draw constitutional districts — warrants the remedy requested,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.

Yes. It’s time for a pinch-hitter.

As the plaintiffs explain it, the Supreme Court has quick access to all the information it needs and knows how to use the map-drawing software to make speedy work of a map that meets constitutional requirements in time for the coming 2016 election cycle.

“Nearly two months have been lost already,” plaintiff lawyers said, and the remaining time is too short “to delay a remedy based on unjustified and speculative optimism.”

Officials in Palm Beach and Broward counties are hoping that they’ll get another chance to make their case for keeping the maps as they are for U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton: with Districts 22 and 21 shaped vertically, stretching north and south across both counties, instead of stacked horizontally, as the Supreme Court suggested — but didn’t require.

Their pleas fell on deaf ears at the special session, with lawmakers saying they feared tinkering with a map suggested by the court. But then, at the insistence of Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president, they did tinker with his home district east of Tampa. Hmmm.

As we’ve said before, expecting apolitical decisions from political creatures is a fool’s errand. In years to come, we should have an independent, non-partisan commission that takes this job out of lawmakers’ hands.

But for now, the court needs to step in — now. Because a mid-October special session for choosing state Senate districts — another forced gathering, with potentially more partisan drama — is coming up.


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