Make us your home page
Instagram

Supreme Court tosses proposed Senate maps

Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, from left, Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, huddle Friday as members learned that the state Supreme Court ordered the chamber to redraw its legislative districts.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Sens. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, from left, Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, huddle Friday as members learned that the state Supreme Court ordered the chamber to redraw its legislative districts.

TALLAHASSEE

In a historic ruling that could shape state politics for decades, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday tossed out the proposed state Senate legislative map, forcing lawmakers to start over in a special session next week.

In the detailed 234-page majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente, the court voted 7-0 to validate the House's redistricting proposal, but rejected the Senate map, 5-2, for failing to follow new standards approved by voters in 2010.

Late Friday, Gov. Rick Scott called a special session devoted exclusively to redistricting starting Wednesday at 1 p.m. The Legislature will have 14 days to redraw maps and return them to the court, leaving in limbo the Senate's 40 district boundaries.

The court singled out eight Senate districts as invalid, including the districts of incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, Republican Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and incoming Democratic leader Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale. It concluded the districts were designed to protect incumbents and were in violation of the new anti-gerrymandering directive of voters.

A Times/Herald analysis found the House map pitted 38 incumbents against each other, while the Senate protected districts of incumbents hoping to return.

The Legislature's maps had been challenged by the Florida Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida. They argued the Senate maps were drawn with the intent to protect Republican majorities in the House and Senate and unfairly pack minorities into districts on the pretense of protecting minority voting strength.

Senate Rules Chairman John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said the Senate anticipated the court's ruling.

"Our plan is to probably try to come back sometime next week, start working on it in committee, and try to get as much done as we can,'' he said.

Each chamber drew its own map as part of a handshake agreement between the House and Senate. House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford said he will leave it up to the Senate to fix its map when both chambers return to Tallahassee.

Within hours of the ruling, the inevitable dominoes of a redrawn map began to fall. Former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican, filed to run in the district now held by Miami Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis, whose district is already dominated by Hispanic voters.

The court commended the House for drawing visually and geographically compact districts as well as preserving the ability of minorities to elect legislators of their choosing.

But it said the Senate map "is rife with objective indicators of improper intent which, when considered in isolation do not amount to improper intent, but when viewed cumulatively demonstrate a clear pattern."

In his concurring opinion, Justice Charles E.C. Perry blasted the Senate for the sprawling, noncompact minority districts drawn under the pretense of protecting minority rights.

"I cannot agree that there was a rational basis for the Senate to decide to turn a blind eye to population data when drawing their plan,'' Perry wrote. "By refusing any attempt to draw more compact districts, while maintaining the required racial proportions, there is at least the appearance that the Senate thumbed its nose at the will of the people."

The new rules establish landmark standards that legislators must follow when they embark on the once-a-decade redistricting process. They prohibit lawmakers from intentionally protecting incumbents and political parties; require them to preserve minority voting rights; and, order them to draw compact districts where possible.

But the court not only rejected the Senate map, it also shot holes in the arguments of the Legislature's lawyers as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi. They said the court should limit its review and let the details be fought over in the lower courts.

The court concluded it "would be an abdication of this court's responsibility under the Florida Constitution" to fail to conduct a thorough review. It also warned that waiting for the lower courts could "create uncertainty for voters" and candidates who must qualify to run for their seats during the week of June 4.

The new Fair Districts standards didn't offer the court any guidance as to how to define those concepts, and the court was clearly divided over how far it should go into settling the factual disputes over those elements.

Chief Justice Charles Canady agreed with Bondi and the Legislature's lawyers in a strongly worded dissenting opinion that accused the majority of abrogating the court's precedent of conducting a limited review of redistricting maps and leaving fact-based claims to be sorted out in the trial courts.

"Based on nothing more than suspicion and surmise, the majority concludes that certain district lines were drawn with improper intent — when there is an evident, rational, permissible basis for the drawing of those lines,'' Canady wrote, with Justice Ricky Polston concurring.

But Pariente, who was joined by Justices Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga, Fred Lewis and Charles Perry said the new Fair Districts amendments imposed upon the court "a weighty obligation" to measure the Legislature's actions "with a very specific constitutional yardstick."

The court also rejected the argument used by House and Senate leaders that the new constitutional standards required the state to adhere to virtually the same minority districts as before.

The court also concluded that the Senate's decision to renumber districts, giving some members longer terms than others under term limits, was an attempt to improperly manipulate numbers and "was intended to favor incumbents."

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Read about the once-a-decade redistricting process at tampabay.com/redistricting

Supreme Court tosses proposed Senate maps 03/09/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 9, 2012 11:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.

  2. Sen. Nelson urges FEMA to examine high number of denied flood claims

    Banking

    Sen. Bill Nelson urged FEMA on Tuesday to ensure fairness, proper oversight and transparency in processing Hurricane Irma aid following a report by the Palm Beach Post that 90 percent of Irma claims under the National Flood Insurance Program had been denied.

    Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for FEMA to ensure the flood claims process post-Hurricane Irma is fair and ethical following reports that 90 percent of claims under the National Flood Insurance Program were denied. | [Times file photo]
  3. Amazon expands in Tampa with Pop-Up shop in International Plaza

    Retail

    TAMPA — A new retailer known largely for its online presence has popped up at International Plaza and Bay Street.

    Shoppers walk past the new Amazon kiosk Tuesday at the International Plaza in Tampa. The kiosk, which opened last month, offers shoppers an opportunity to touch and play with some of the products that Amazon offers.
[CHRIS URSO   |   Times]

  4. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code

    Banking

    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  5. Trigaux: On new Forbes 400 list of U.S. billionaires, 35 now call Florida their home

    Personal Finance

    The latest Forbes 400 richest people in America was unveiled Tuesday, with 35 billionaires on that list calling Florida home. That's actually down from 40 Florida billionaires listed last year when a full 10 percent listed declared they were Floridians by residence.

    Edward DeBartolo, Jr., shopping center developer and  former San Francisco 49ers Owner, posed with his bronze bust last year during the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony in Canton, Ohio. DeBartolo remains the wealthiest person in Tampa Bay according to the Forbes 400 list released Tuesday. 
[Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images]