Plaintiffs say Florida Supreme Court should redraw congressional districts

Mary Ellen Klas | Tampa Bay Times | 08/27/2015

Equating the Legislature's redistricting failure to a strike out, the coalition of voting groups that successfully challenged the state's congressional redistricting map on Thursday called on the Florida Supreme Court to draw the map and reject the Legislature's call for more time.

"Faced with the Legislature’s disregard of its mandate, this Court should promptly adopt a remedial plan,'' wrote the lawyers for the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters in a motion filed Thursday.

"...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 motion comes a day after Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis asked the court for guidance after the Legislature ended its special redistricting session without an enacted congressional map — the third attempt in three years.

The House and Senate have asked the Supreme Court to allow Lewis to conduct a trial and decide whether draft House or Senate map is best. Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Bill Galvano added to the intrigue Thursday by proposing yet another redistricting map that attempts to appease the House's concerns by dramatically rewriting the Senate's final plan.

But the plaintiffs argue that the clock is running to get a legally sufficient map completed by the 2016 elections and returning to the trial court would be a "needless second layer of proceedings and associated delay without significant benefits."

"Nearly two months have been lost already, and the remaining time before the 2016 elections is far too limited— and the stakes far too high—to delay a remedy based on unjustified and speculative optimism,'' they wrote.

They also noted that the Supreme Court has "acquired and utilized Maptitude software," referring to the popular map-drawing programs used for redistricting, and argued that the court is well-positioned to handle the map drawing itself.

"Equipped with modern map analysis software and the parties’ submissions, this Court will have the necessary tools to quickly and easily analyze compactness, boundaries, demographic information, and performance data without the need for extensive discovery or evidentiary proceedings and thus is able to effectively evaluate the data necessary to draw and consider alternative district configurations," the plaintiffs wrote.

They rejected the claim by legislators that there is a need to conduct additional discovery of maps drawn by the House and Senate "beyond what this Court has already recommended the Legislature to provide.''

And, in a warning to lawmakers who have scheduled an October special session to redraw the Senate map, they noted that the Florida Constitution says that if the Legislature fails to draw a House or Senate map, the Florida Supreme Court is required to do it.

As a result, “the institutional expertise this duty presumes makes this Court better suited to draw the congressional maps than the trial court, especially given the urgency of the matter,’’ they said.

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