Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Legislators ask court to shield them from having to testify over maps

TALLAHASSEE — The latest fight over the state's congressional redistricting map came before a Tallahassee appeals court Tuesday as lawyers for the state argued that legislators and their political consultants should not have to testify about how they made their decisions.

The congressional maps became law last year, but are now under fire from seven residents from Key West to St. Petersburg and from a coalition of voters groups who allege that lawmakers drew the maps "with the intent to favor the Republican Party and incumbents" in violation of the state Constitution.

Last month, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Legislature's leaders must turn over their emails from political consultants and testify under oath as part of the lawsuit.

Before that could happen, however, lawyers for the House and Senate filed an appeal. On Tuesday, they argued that requiring lawmakers to give hours of depositions about their intent would violate their "legislative privilege" under Florida law and subject them to legal intimidation.

"It will be the first time in the history of the state a party will be allowed to compel a legislator to testify in deposition about the core functions he engaged in the legislative process," said Raoul Cantero, a former Supreme Court justice who is representing the Senate.

In 2010, voters approved the Fair Districts constitutional amendments, which required lawmakers to draw restricting lines without favoring incumbents or political parties. Voters groups have latched onto the two amendments as grounds to sue the Legislature, alleging that both the congressional and state Senate maps were intentionally drawn to favor Republicans.

Lawyers for the voters groups, representing the seven citizens as well as the Florida League of Women Voters and the National Council of La Raza, argued that if they can't depose legislators to determine whether they purposely drew maps that favored Republicans, the court would "render meaningless" the constitutional amendments.

John Devaney, a lawyer for the voters group, said if the plaintiffs weren't allowed to question legislators, it would be impossible to prove their intent.

"If you do that, you really take the guts out of the Fair Districts amendments," he said.

Judge T. Kent Wetherell II, whose father was House speaker during a contentious redistricting fight in 1992, suggested that the plaintiffs were asking the court "to go down a slippery slope." Since a majority of legislators voted on the maps, he said deposing a small number was a useless exercise.

"You aren't going to know the intent from talking to one person," Wetherell said. "So other than just the sport of it, what's the point?"

Adam Schachter, another lawyer for the voters groups, said "we will never line up 61 legislators and ask them hours and hours of questions. But there has to be some ability to breathe life into these amendments to see if there in fact was something inappropriate."

Legislators ask court to shield them from having to testify over maps 03/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. GOP's new repeal bill would likely leave millions more uninsured, analyses suggest

    Health

    WASHINGTON — The latest Republican bid to roll back the Affordable Care Act would likely leave millions of currently insured Americans without health coverage in the coming decades, and strip benefits and protections from millions more, a growing number of independent studies suggest.

    Vice President Mike Pence listens as President Donald Trump talks to reporters about the Graham-Cassidy health care bill during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Palace Hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017, in New York. [Evan Vucci | Associated Press]
  2. Mueller casts broad net in requesting extensive records from Trump White House

    Nation

    WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian election meddling has requested extensive records and email correspondence from the White House, covering the president's private discussions about firing his FBI director and his response to news that the then-national security adviser was under …

    In a photograph provided by the Russian foreign ministry, President Donald Trump meets with Sergei Lavrov, left, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, May 10, 2017. Special counsel Robert Mueller is interested in this meeting, where Trump said dismissing FBI Director James Comey had relieved "great pressure" on him, the New York Times reported on Sept. 20. [Russian Foreign Ministry via  New York Times]
  3. 'We will find our island destroyed': Hurricane Maria demolishes Puerto Rico

    News

    SAN JUAN — Sleepless Puerto Ricans awoke Wednesday knowing to expect a thrashing from the most ferocious storm to strike the island in at least 85 years. They met nightfall confronting the ruin Hurricane Maria left behind: engorged rivers, blown-out windows, sheared roofs, toppled trees and an obliterated electric …

    Rescue vehicles from the Emergency Management Agency stand trapped under an awning during the impact of Hurricane Maria, after the storm  hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has lost its major hurricane status, after raking Puerto Rico. But forecasters say some strengthening is in the forecast and Maria could again become a major hurricane by Thursday. [Carlos Giusti | Associated Press]
  4. Obamacare repeal bill offers flexibility and uncertainty

    Politics

    The latest Republican proposal to undo the Affordable Care Act would grant states much greater flexibility and all but guarantee much greater uncertainty for tens of millions of people.

  5. Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire 'private briefings' on 2016 campaign, report says

    Nation

    Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, the Washington Post reports.

    Paul Manafort, then Donald Trump's campaign chairman, talks to reporters on the floor of the Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. [Associated Press]