By declaring finality in the legal fight over the Sunshine State’s congressional map, the Florida Supreme Court’s decision added uncertainty to the political one in 2016.
The court on Wednesday approved a new map, writing in a 5-2 opinion that the lines “should bring much needed finality” to the redistricting drama that has plagued Florida for four years.
The new map, essentially a hybrid of two sets of district lines proposed to the court by the Florida Legislature and the League of Women Voters of Florida, will likely change the political prospects for lawmakers and the candidates hoping to win their seats in at least five of the state’s 27 districts.
“Many of the decisions that were made in our maps cut both ways, against Democrats and Republicans. We simply followed the Constitution,” said David King, a lawyer for the Fair Districts Coalition, who argued the case on the League of Women Voters’ behalf.
The old map, approved after the 2010 census, was thrown out in July by a lower court, which ruled it violated the state’s Fair Districts amendment — a measure approved by voters that sought to lessen partisan gerrymandering.
Democrats appear to gain the most with the new map, though they didn’t emerge unscathed. The 2nd District, currently held by Democrat Gwen Graham, gained a number of Republican voters, making it tougher to hold.
Republicans have their own challenges in the new 10th and 13th districts, held by Republican Reps. Daniel Webster and David Jolly, where the new lines have placed large new numbers of Democrats.
So far, the seat held by Jolly, who is not seeking re-election and is running instead in the large primary for the state’s open Senate, has failed to draw a Republican candidate. But two Democrats, including former Gov. Charlie Crist and Eric Lynn, are already facing off for their party’s nomination.
With the new lines, the state’s 18th District — an open seat held now by Democrat Patrick Murphy, who is also running for Senate instead of seeking re-election — is even more competitive than it was before. A half-dozen Republicans and one Democrat have already started campaigns for the seat.
Democrats were also added to the 7th District near Orlando, which is held by John L. Mica. Pointing to Bill Phillips, the sole Democrat in the race to challenge him next fall, one Democratic operative said Wednesday the party would likely take another look at the once safe Republican seat.
Officials for both parties said the 26th District, held by Republican Carlos Curbelo, will be a tight race, too. Democrat Annette Taddeo, armed with the backing of EMILY’s List, joined the race earlier this year, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has placed Curbelo on the Patriot Program, its list of most vulnerable incumbents.
“We remain confident in our ability to win new seats and hold our seats in Florida. This map doesn’t change our strategy of being on offense this cycle and holding Democrats accountable,” said Chris Pack, a spokesman for the NRCC.
Even if Republicans were to lose three or four seats under the new map, the party will likely hold on to control of the state’s congressional delegation, where it holds 17 seats.
Despite Thursday’s state Supreme Court decision, which Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida called a “landmark decision,” the legal fight is not entirely over. Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown has raised concerns that her redrawn 4th District is not adequately populated by African-Americans and has a case pending with which she has threatened to try to take the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“With the new district, there will be an ability to elect an African American candidate. There’s simply no basis under the federal Voting Rights Act” to challenge it, her lawyer said.