The Tampa Bay Times reports that Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis threw out Florida’s congressional map late Thursday, ruling that the Legislature opened the door for a “secret, organized campaign” carried out by partisan operatives in an attempt to subvert the redistricting process in violation of the Constitution of Florida.
In a 41-page ruling, Judge Lewis said that two of the 27 districts must be redrawn. Other districts affected by the redrawing must also be redrawn, bringing the map into compliance with the state’s new Fair Districts amendments. The case is expected to be appealed and ultimately decided at the Florida Supreme Court.
According to the Tampa Bay Times:
Any change in the political lines for Congress would have a ripple effect on other races, and raised questions on when the map would be redrawn.
Lewis rejected challenges to districts in South Florida and Tampa Bay, but said that District 5, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, and District 10, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster of Winter Park “will need to be redrawn, as will any other districts affected thereby.”
The judge agreed with the coalition’s prime argument: that Republican legislators and staffers collaborated with political consultants to create “a shadow redistricting process” that protected incumbents and the GOP.
“We were extremely gratified,”‘ said David King, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “It’s gratifying when the court accepts and understands your argument.”
Legislative leaders said in a statement they are reviewing the ruling and would not comment.
The 13-day trial revealed the once-a-decade process of redrawing the political boundaries, and it was rife with political intrigue that involved numerous side lawsuits, a closed hearing to keep the testimony of GOP consultant Pat Bainter off public record, and closing briefs filled with redacted references to the documents that Bainter possessed.
Lewis defended his decision to allow the documents by arguing that the evidence was “highly relevant” and unobtainable from other source, although he agreed to close the courtroom and seal the documents to do it:
“The evidence was highly relevant and not available from other sources,” he wrote, “… to show how extensive and organized” the shadow map-making process was “and what lengths they went in order to conceal what they were doing.”
Lewis said political consultants “made a mockery of the Legislature’s transparent and open process of redistricting” while “going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.”
“They were successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan under review here,” he wrote. “And they might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the Plaintiffs’ determined efforts to uncover it in this case.”
He concluded that the circumstantial evidence proved that the political operatives “managed to find other avenues … to infiltrate and influence the Legislature.”
A GOP-controlled government with the political transparency of an BP oil slick — who would’ve thought.
While Lewis raised doubts about the complicity of House Speaker Will Weatherford, former House Speaker Dean Cannon, and Senate President Don Gaetz, he didn’t draw any direct conclusions suggesting that they were aware of the scheme. Lewis detailed the involvement of numerous aids, however, such as Cannon’s aide, Kirk Pepper, and the evidence of Pepper forwarding the maps to GOP operative Marc Reichelderfer.
Legislative leaders and political operatives destroyed almost all of their emails and other documents that were related to redistricting, leading Lewis to conclude that the circumstantial evidence surrounding the developments, and the evidence that the consultants attempted to influence the two problematic districts, helped to prove that the GOP operatives were attempting to manipulate the process.
Lewis wrote that, “There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn’t. Litigation over their plans was ‘a moral certainty’ as their lawyers put it earlier in the case, and intent would be a key issue in any challenge.” According to the Tampa Bay Times:
Lewis tore apart the defense of the most controversial district in Florida’s map — District 5, a snake-shaped boundary that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando and was first drawn by a court 20 years ago when Brown was first elected.
Lewis said the changes made to the other district, 10, “benefited the incumbent Representative Webster” and violated the Fair Districts rules.
Lewis also raised questions about the decision by House and Senate leaders to ignore the potential political performance of most districts they drew and why they didn’t concern themselves with the authors of publicly submitted maps.
“Turning a blind eye to the probability of improper intent in these maps is not the same as neutrality,” he wrote.
Imagine that. Sanity from Florida.
I’m not confident this will fare well in the Florida Supreme Court, but redistricting is a massive problem and it needs to be addressed if we even hope to maintain a modicum of integrity for our rapidly failing democracy.
source: Tampa Bay Times