Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Redistricting fight moves from Capitol to state Supreme Court

TALLAHASSEE — Attorneys for opposing sides in Florida's redistricting fight submitted briefs to the Florida Supreme Court on Friday, with each urging the high court to take drastically different approaches in reviewing maps that redraw the state's political boundaries.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, along with the lawyers for the Republican-led House and Senate, want the court to give deference to the Legislature, avoid getting into the facts behind the maps and sign off on the proposals as constitutional.

Lawyers for the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voters groups — who have already mounted a legal challenge in district court over the congressional maps — argue that constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010 had changed the rules for drawing new districts. Those rules, they argue, not only raised the burden for the Legislature but created a "higher bar" for the court's judicial review.

The Florida Supreme Court has until March 9 to approve or reject the maps and has set oral arguments for Feb. 29. In the past, the high court's review of the redistricting maps has traditionally been a "facial" review that determines if they are constitutional on their face, as opposed to applying particular facts.

Even if the state Supreme Court approves the maps, the battle is not likely to end, as opponents are expected to pursue legal challenges in other courts.

Bondi, a Republican, asked the court to conduct an "extremely limited facial review" that would not evaluate the evidence and "attempt to find a 'perfect plan' " but instead presume the Legislature's work is valid and "validates the plan on its face."

Democrats and the coalition, which includes the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, argued to the contrary.

"The Legislature's maps are blatant partisan and incumbent-protection plans and they must be invalidated with instructions to the Legislature to draw plans," lawyers wrote in the coalition's 61-page brief.

Both the coalition and the Democrats cited numerous examples in which the districts of individual legislators were designed to give them or Republicans an electoral advantage.

In that context, opponents argue that the Legislature violated every one of the new standards imposed by Fair District's Amendment 5, which prohibited legislators from drawing districts with the intent to favor political parties or incumbents.

"The Legislature cannot credibly contest that the Senate and House plans were drawn with the intent and result of favoring the Republican Party," the Florida Democratic Party wrote in its 58-page brief. "Incontrovertible statistics demonstrate a significant partisan imbalance in both plans that simply cannot be justified on the basis of voter registration or election data, racial fairness, or any other legitimate rationale."

The coalition accused the Legislature of using public hearings to "cherry pick" statements that suited their own partisan and incumbent protection agenda.

The brief cites the "gentlemen's agreement" between the House and Senate by which each chamber chose not to draw a map for the other as part of the plan to protect their own.

Lawyers for both the House and Senate, however, argue that their maps either "scrupulously adhere" to federal and state requirements or "demonstrates complete constitutional compliance."

The Senate argued that the requirements are "often in tension with each other — and the resolution of such conflicts is precisely the kind of nuanced policy judgment entrusted to the Legislature."

The opponents want the court to focus on one critical word in the constitutional language: intent.

The new standards prohibit lawmakers from drawing a map "with the intent to favor or disfavor" an incumbent or political party, the Democrats wrote. "There is no acceptable level of improper intent" and "any intent to favor a party or incumbent invalidates the plan."

The legislative lawyers disagree that opponents will be able to prove incumbent protection.

The proposed state House map pits 38 incumbents against each other, while the Senate map protects the district of every returning Democrat and Republican incumbent.

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