The Florida Supreme Court has approved a congressional district map, ending a saga that began with the 2010 census, carried on through courts and a special legislative session, and means big changes for some South Florida congressional districts.
The map, created by voting rights groups including the League of Women Voters, will mean congressional districts in Broward and Palm Beach counties represented by Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, and Ted Deutch, D-West Boca, will no longer run parallel to each other. Instead, one district will be entirely in Palm Beach County, while another will be mostly in Broward, but also includes Boca Raton.
In Miami-Dade County, the map will likely make it more difficult for Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Miami, to hold onto his seat as the demographics of his district become more Democratic.
"We are extremely pleased, obviously, that the Supreme Court and the judiciary has been able to do their job as an adjunct to the legislature or rather, in place of the legislature," Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said after the ruling.
Redistricting is usually a once-a-decade process based on the U.S. Census, but when the Legislature drew district lines after the 2010 Census, it ran afoul of the Fair Districts Amendments, which voters approved as amendments 5 and 6 in 2010.
Those amendments required districts to be compact, contiguous, use already existing geographic and political boundaries where possible, and not be drawn to benefit a political party of incumbent.
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis agreed with the voting rights groups and provided a quick fix to the district map. But the Florida Supreme Court decided in July of this year that the lower court hadn't gone far enough. It ruled that eight congressional districts would have to be redrawn, and so the Legislature met in August to draw new maps. However, the House and Senate were unable to agree on a map over the three-week session, which ended in failure.
The case went back to the court, then, and Lewis had to choose between the House map, the Senate map, and three maps offered by the League of Women Voters and the other groups that had sued the Legislature in the first place. Lewis went with one of the league's maps, a map that split fewer city and county borders than any of the other maps offered to the court.
"We did not anticipate ... that the Legislature would be unable to agree on a final remedial redistricting plan," the court wrote in its opinion released Wednesday. Five justices ruled in favor of the map, with one partially concurring and partially dissenting, and another dissenting.
In his dissent, Justice Ricky Polston wrote that the court "adopts a remedial plan drawn entirely by Democratic operatives," a contention that the majority of the court rejected out of hand, pointing out that the new district lines drew Democrats Frankel and Deutch into the same district.
Frankel and Deutch have not said which of them will try to run in the Broward-based district that neither of them live in. But they have said they won't run against each other.
The new map also has implications for Central Florida and North Florida, where a redrawn majority-minority district represented by Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, probably means Dan Webster, R-Winter Haven, and Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, will be voted out of Congress. Brown has said that her new district is a violation of the Voting Rights Act because it does not allow minority voters to elect a candidate of their choosing, and she has promised to take her case to federal court.
The numbers, however, do not bear out Brown's contention. Her new district, which runs along the Florida-Georgia border, is mostly Democratic, and most of the Democratic voters in the district are African-American.
Now, the redistricting effort turns to state Senate districts, which followed a similar path to congressional ones. The Legislature held a separate three-week session to redraw them after it agreed with voting-rights groups that the previous district lines had violated the Fair Districts Amendments. And just as in the congressional redistricting session, the two chambers were unable to agree on a map. That case goes before the circuit judge in Tallahassee on Dec. 14.
"We're laser-focused on that litigation right now," Goodman said. "I'm optimistically hopeful we'll have fair districts in place for the 2016 elections for the Senate districts as well as Congress."
So far, the Legislature has spent more than $11 million defending its redistricting efforts in court, with hundreds of thousands more spent to bring lawmakers to Tallahassee for special sessions.
The new maps will apply until the 2020 census, when the entire process begins again.