Florida House wants details on proposed congressional maps

Brandon Larrabee | Jacksonville Business Journal | 09/18/2015

Lawyers for the Florida House are asking the state Supreme Court to allow them to dig deeper into the origins of proposed congressional districts submitted by organizations and voters who successfully sued to overturn a map drawn by the Legislature in 2012.

In a brief filed Thursday, the House's attorneys argued they need more evidence about how the plaintiffs' proposed districts came about, given that a coalition of voting-rights organizations and a group of voters worked with Democratic political operatives to draw maps submitted this week in Leon County circuit court.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who has the task of coming up with a congressional map for the Supreme Court to consider, will hold a hearing next week to look at seven sets of proposed districts: two drawn by the Florida Senate; one submitted by the House; three proposed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida; and one floated by a group of voters known as the Romo plaintiffs.

In their Thursday filing with the Supreme Court, the House's lawyers asked justices to lift a previous ban on discovering additional evidence in the case, as the House seeks to make sure that the plaintiffs' maps don't violate the state's anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters in 2010.

"Without apparent shame, plaintiffs have presented to the trial court alternative maps that were drawn, reviewed, discussed, modified, and approved in a closed process, in complete darkness, by national political operatives," the filing says. "The fact that plaintiffs' maps, despite their origins, are pending before the trial court for a possible recommendation to this (Supreme) Court should dismay and disturb all Floridians."

The congressional map drawn by lawmakers in 2012, and slightly tweaked in 2014, was rejected by the Supreme Court in July for violating the Fair Districts amendments. That ruling relied heavily on evidence that Republican political consultants secretly funneled proposed maps to the Legislature through a public comment process.

The task of redrawing the maps fell to Lewis after a special legislative session in August imploded because of differences between the House and Senate over how to arrange districts in Southwest Florida and the Interstate 4 corridor.

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