Redistricting suits heat up

TALLAHASSEE — A pair of lawsuits seeking to knock three redistricting proposals off Florida's Nov. 2 ballot have touched off a legal and political free-for-all.

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It includes now-independent Gov. Charlie Crist, Democratic former Gov. and ex-Sen. Bob Graham, both houses of the Republican-controlled Legislature and two members of Congress.

A judge allowed Graham to intervene Thursday in one of the lawsuits. Crist filed written arguments as a "friend of the court" opposing stances taken by the Legislature in both cases earlier this week.

One case focuses on a pair of citizen initiatives placed on the ballot by petition. Each is designed to curtail the traditional practice of gerrymandering to help incumbents win re-election and the political party in power to stay that way. Amendment 5 covers legislative redistricting and Amendment 6 congressional.

The other lawsuit challenges Amendment 7, which the Legislature put on the ballot in reaction to the initiatives. Sponsors say it's needed to "clarify" the initiatives if they should pass. Opponents, though, argue it would nullify the anti-gerrymandering measures and give the legislative majority free rein to do as it pleases.

Crist has joined Graham and other initiative supporters in defending those measures. He also has sided with initiative backers who are challenging Amendment 7.

U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, are challenging Amendment 6, which affects only Congress. Both house of the Legislature joined their lawsuit and expanded it to include Amendment 5.

Brown, who is black, and Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, and the Legislature argue the initiatives would hurt gains made in minority representation. The initiatives' defenders say just the opposite — that they will protect those gains.

Crist has allied himself with Florida's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Florida League of Women Voters and the Hispanic advocacy group Democracia Ahora and their leaders, who are challenging Amendment 7.

Both cases were filed in Tallahassee. Circuit Judge James Shelfer has set a final hearing July 8 for the Amendment 7 case. A nonjury trial before Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford is scheduled for July 26 in the initiatives case.

The Amendment 7 challengers say it should be removed because its ballot summary is misleading. They argue the amendment fails to set redistricting standards, contrary to what the summary says.

Redistricting suits heat up 06/25/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 25, 2010 10:15pm]

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