Obey court, and the people

Randy Schultz[ck_comma] for The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board | Palm Beach Post | 09/15/2011

The first sentence of the Florida Constitution reads: "All political power is inherent in the people." A federal judge understands. So should some of the politicians who supposedly represent the people of Florida.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro rejected a challenge by two Florida members of Congress and the Florida House to Amendment 6, which voters approved last November as a way to stop politicians from picking their voters. U.S. Reps. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and state House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, have 30 days from the ruling to appeal. Doing so only would make them seem more arrogant.

That is especially true of Rep. Cannon, who has spent roughly $200,000 of the public's money fighting the public's will. Amendment 6 prohibits the Legislature from drawing congressional districts "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." Both parties have drawn districts with just that intent for decades. Amendment 5 applies the same requirement to the drawing of state House and Senate districts.

The challengers argued that the amendments infringe on the Legislature's constitutional power to draw the maps. Judge Ungaro, whom President George H.W. Bush appointed to the court, correctly noted that Florida allows the people to amend the state constitution, which can include giving direction to legislators. Ironically, those same legislators who oppose Amendments 5 and 6 have criticized the amendments' supporters for not submitting maps that the Legislature might consider.

In fact, the Republicans who run the Legislature don't care what the voters think. They want to continue what the GOP has done so skillfully for 20 years: cut deals with minority Democrats to give them safe seats here and there in return for strengthening Republicans statewide. The amendments threaten that system, which also allows the most powerful legislators to create congressional districts for themselves. Rep. Diaz-Balart did just that in 2002, as a state representative leading the congressional reapportionment committee. Florida will gain two more seats during next year's reapportionment.

Political line-drawing that ignores the voters, though, is bipartisan. Maryland has eight congressional seats. The Democrats who control the state legislature want to place the two Republicans in the same district, in hopes of getting a seventh Democrat elected. In Ohio, which is losing two seats, the Republican-led Legislature wants to shift a pair of Democrats into new, GOP-friendly districts while giving the Democrats a new seat elsewhere and making adjoining districts more Republican.

One cause of our political dysfunction is the proliferation of safe seats that encourage extremism and discourage compromise. Amendments 5 and 6 seek to change that. Even if Judge Ungaro's ruling stands, expect the Legislature to resist. That's why the maps must be completed as early as possible, to allow what probably will be needed challenges, so that in 2012 more of the political power in Florida is inherent in the people.

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