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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Congresswoman Corrine Brown argues to scrap redistricting lines again



The legal fight over Florida's drawing of its 27 Congressional districts is not quite over yet.

An attorney for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, argued in a federal court in Tallahassee on Friday morning that the districts that the Florida Supreme Court ordered the state to enact late last year violate the federal Voting Rights Act. William Sheppard said the state is diluting the voting power of minority communities that were previously in Brown's Congressional district by allowing the maps to go into effect in the November elections.

Sheppard is asking the court for an injunction to stop the 2016 elections for Congress with the newly redrawn 5th Congressional district, which runs from Jacksonville west to Tallahassee. Sheppard wants the court to continue to allow Brown run in the current 5th Congressional District. That district currently runs from Jacksonville and meanders 140 miles south to Orlando.

Sheppard argued that the black neighborhoods incorporated in the previous district are communities of interest that, if split up, would deprive black voters of the right to elect candidates of their choosing. Voters in that old district have been shattered into six other congressional districts under the plan the state has set up for the 2016 elections.

Brown, first elected to Congress in 1992, was more blunt, declaring in press conference after the hearing that the new maps looks like a "perfect storm to get rid of Corrine Brown."

David King, the lead attorney for the League of Women Voters, argued in court against Brown's lawsuit, saying by splitting her district the way the Florida Supreme Court did, there will be two districts that will be more likely to elect an African-American candidate, instead of just one through central Florida. He added the previous district Brown represented was not compact and not in compliance with Florida's Constitution.

King said Brown's suit isn't about increasing the electoral opportunities of voters as much as it is to benefit one incumbent. He argued that the new 5th District will bring more communities with large black voting age populations into that district, while also create a new district that will likely favor a black candidate in Orlando.

"The upshot is that you have 120,000 more people will have a choice to elect a candidate of their choice," King said of the state's new congressional map.

Sheppard argued it was not about the preservation of one incumbent. He said the case is about making sure people who are in the district now, are not placed in districts where they won't have a the same chance to elect who they want to Congress.

He repeatedly told the three-judge panel that you cannot fix the problems of voter access in one area by improving voting access in another.

But the three-panel judge repeatedly pressed Sheppard for evidence to prove that the new 5th Congressional District would prevent black voters from being able to elect a candidate of their choice.

The judges gave Brown's attorney until April 4 provide additional arguments to support their case, and King a week after that to respond to those filings.

Florida's congressional lines have been in legal limbo since they were first redrawn before the 2012 election. After those lines were enacted, government watchdog groups sued the Republican-dominated state Legislature saying lawmakers violated that state's consitution by drawing districts to favor incumbents and political parties. Lawmakers were ordered to redraw the districts. But when lawmakers failed to draw compliant maps last year, the Florida Supreme Court intervened and imposed a map on the Legislature that the court argued was constitutional.

[Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2016 3:22pm]


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