TALLAHASSEE — The legal fight over Florida's drawing of its 27 congressional districts is not quite over yet.
An attorney for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, argued in a federal court on Friday that the districts that the Florida Supreme Court ordered the state to enact late last year violate the federal Voting Rights Act. William Sheppard said the state is diluting the voting power of minority communities that were previously in Brown's congressional district by allowing the maps to go into effect in the November elections.
Sheppard is asking the court for an injunction to stop the 2016 elections for Congress with the newly redrawn 5th congressional district, which runs from Jacksonville west to Tallahassee. Sheppard wants the court to continue to allow Brown to run in the current 5th congressional district. That district currently runs from Jacksonville and meanders 140 miles south to Orlando.
Sheppard argued that the black neighborhoods incorporated in the previous district are communities of interest that, if split up, would deprive black voters of the right to elect candidates of their choosing. Voters in that old district have been split into six other congressional districts under the new plan. He said after decades of progress of improving voting opportunities for black voters under the Voting Rights Act, the new districts could reverse that.
"We've undone everything that has been undone," Sheppard said.
Brown, first elected to Congress in 1992, was more blunt, declaring in a press conference after the hearing that the new maps looks like a "perfect storm to get rid of Corrine Brown."
Her comments came days after the U.S. House Ethics Committee announced it had opened an investigation into Brown over allegations that she engaged in improper conduct by possibly conspiring with others in connection with fraudulent activity and improper solicitation of charitable donations, among other charges.
Brown repeatedly told reporters on Friday that she would not comment on that complaint on direction from her attorneys. She said she would only talk about redistricting.
David King, the lead attorney for the League of Women Voters, argued in court against Brown's lawsuit, saying that splitting her district will create two districts that will be more likely to elect an African-American candidate, instead of just one through central Florida. He added the previous district Brown represented was not compact and not in compliance with Florida's Constitution.
King said Brown's suit isn't about increasing the electoral opportunities of voters as much as it is to benefit one incumbent.
The three-judge federal panel is giving Brown's attorney until April 4 to provide additional arguments to support their case, and King a week after that to respond to those filings.
Florida's congressional lines have been in legal limbo since they were first redrawn before the 2012 election.
After those lines were enacted, government watchdog groups sued the Republican-dominated state Legislature saying lawmakers violated that state's constitution by drawing districts to favor incumbents and political parties. Lawmakers were ordered to redraw the districts. But when lawmakers failed to draw compliant maps last year, the Florida Supreme Court intervened and imposed a map on the Legislature that the court argued was constitutional.