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Challenge of congressional maps won't be delayed

TALLAHASSEE — The state Democratic Party and a coalition of voter groups hoping to invalidate the boundaries of Florida's 27 congressional districts will be allowed to make their case during a trial next month.

But whether a judge will rule on the maps before the November elections remains up in the air.

During a preliminary hearing Friday, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said he wants to at least attempt to address some of issues surrounding the proposed congressional maps during a hearing the week of April 16.

That's a blow to lawyers from the House and Senate, who had hoped to delay the trial until after November.

They argue that there isn't enough time for Lewis to rule and for the Senate and House to potentially redraw the maps before candidate qualifying is scheduled to start June 4.

That still may be true, Lewis admitted.

"I don't know that I could resolve the claims of the plaintiffs in the time they want to resolve them," he said during Friday's roughly 30-minute hearing.

The lawsuit accuses legislators of trying to protect incumbents and therefore violating an antigerrymandering amendment passed by Florida voters in 2010.

The suit was filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida

Lewis said he asked the Florida Supreme Court to share software and other resources used during a similar challenge to the Florida House and Senate maps, a rare occurrence and a signal the judge hopes to delve into the evidence.

Last week, the Supreme Court validated the House maps but rejected the Senate's and suggested fixes.

Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee Wednesday to begin the process of redrawing the Senate map.

The coalition of plaintiffs asked the judge to expedite the challenge to the congressional maps, saying elections shouldn't be allowed to move forward under the proposed districts.

Challenge of congressional maps won't be delayed 03/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, March 16, 2012 8:52pm]
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