Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Appeals court upholds Fla. redistricting amendment

MIAMI — A federal appeals court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to Florida's Amendment 6, added to the state Constitution by voters to curb so-called gerrymandering of congressional districts that historically protected incumbents or gave advantage to the political party in power.

The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed claims by U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, and Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, that the power to change congressional redistricting rules resides solely with the Legislature and not the voters through a referendum.

"The lawmaking power in Florida expressly includes the power of the people to amend their constitution, and that is exactly what the people did here in passing Amendment 6," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus in the 32-page opinion, which affirmed a September ruling by a Miami federal judge.

Amendment 6 passed with 62 percent of the vote in 2010. Among other things, it requires that the 27 U.S. House of Representatives boundaries in Florida be compact rather than sprawling; that they not be drawn to favor incumbents or political parties; and that they not be designed to shut racial or language minorities out of the political process.

Diaz-Balart and Brown also claimed that those new rules usurped the Legislature's decisionmaking powers, but the court rejected that as well.

Fair Districts attorney Dan Gelber said there should be no further appeals.

"It's time they quit fighting the will of the people," he said. "The court clearly was unimpressed with their argument."

Steve Cody, attorney for both Diaz-Balart and Brown, said no decision has been made on whether they would ask the full appeals court to reconsider the case or ask for U.S. Supreme Court review. The 11th Circuit judges noted that the Supreme Court has twice ruled that the term "Legislature" refers "not just to a state's legislative body but more broadly to the entire lawmaking process of the state."

The two members of Congress who challenged the amendment were opposed by the Florida Secretary of State's office, the American Civil Liberties Union, the state House of Representatives and some individual lawmakers.

Voters in 2010 also approved Amendment 5 that sets the same requirements for legislative redistricting. It was not challenged after it was passed.

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