Congressional redistricting back before Florida Supreme Court, with focus on Miami and Palm Beach County

John Kennedy | Palm Beach Post | 11/10/2015

Florida’s three-year battle over congressional districts landed again Tuesday before the state Supreme Court, with attorneys for the House and Senate fighting against a map drawn by a voters’ coalition.

Justices and a lower court have each rejected plans approved by the Republican-led Legislature as being crafted to favor the party and its incumbent members of Congress.

But this time, the Legislature is on the attack – trying to get the court to throw out a plan described as “hands down” the better approach by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who held a three-day hearing in September on proposals for drawing Florida’s 27 congressional seats in time for next year’s elections.

George Meros, attorney for the Florida House, focused his fight on the Miami-Dade County district currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

Meros said the map before justices illegally reduces the chance that Hispanic voters can elect a preferred candidate.

“It seems like a compact district that meets all the requirements,” Justice Peggy Quince said.

But Meros countered, “The problem is it does not meet the most fundamental requirement….that the minority population will be able to elect a candidate of its choice.”

Attorney David King, representing the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, defended the proposed boundaries, saying that the Miami-Dade seat retains a substantial Hispanic population but acknowledged that it leans Democratic.

He said that may be the real problem for House and Senate attorneys. King seemed to find a possible ally in Justice Barbara Pariente.

“Hispanics are also not just voting Republican anymore,” she said.

The map before the court dramatically changes three of the four congressional districts which course through Palm Beach County.

Districts held by U.S. Reps. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, would undergo the most revision.

Pariente, a former Palm Beach County lawyer and appellate judge, cited the opposition of many Democrats to what happened to Frankel and Deutch’s districts as a sign the map wasn’t contoured to favor that party.

“You have been consistent that those districts should be drawn horizontally and be compact,” Pariente told King. “The Democrats, when that was suggested during special session, said ‘you can’t do that. You’ll be pitting two Democratic incumbents against one another.’”

She added that “a lot of people in South Florida” also disputed the change.

King agreed. “We argued for it in our map…(But) the Democratic Party didn’t think it was a good idea.”

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