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  1. Florida

Judge sets redistricting conference for Tuesday but questions loom

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Monday ordered a scheduling conference for Tuesday after 3 p.m. to receive updates on the status of the congressional redistricting plan that lawmakers failed to complete last week. But the question of the day is: what options does he have?

Lawmakers assumed they were handing over the job of redrawing the districts to the court when they adjourned their two-week special session Friday without finalizing a congressional map. But lawyers for the plaintiffs that brought the legal challenge -- the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and a coalition of Democratic voters -- say they are not sure it will be Lewis who will be drawing the maps.

"The court relinquished the case to the trial court for 100 days to review the Legislature's map and only review the map,'' said Mark Herron, a lawyer for the voters coalition that challenged the congressional redistricting maps. With lawmakers failing to produce a final map, "we're in outside territory now."

Will Lewis order lawmakers to return to complete a map or will he conclude they have irreconcilable differences and mediate the situation himself? If he does decide to mediate and accept alternative maps, will the House and Senate be allowed to offer different options or will they be required to work in tandem?

Here's what the court said in its order:

"We relinquish this case to the trial court for a period of 100 days from the date of this opinion, with directions that it require the Legislature to redraw, on an expedited basis, Congressional Districts 5, 13, 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, and all other districts affected by the redrawing, pursuant to the guidelines set forth in this opinion.

"We emphasize the time-sensitive nature of these proceedings, with candidate qualifying for the 2016 congressional elections now less than a year away, and make clear that we take seriously our obligation to provide certainty to candidates and voters regarding the legality of the state's congressional districts.

"Upon completion of the redrawing of the map, the trial court shall hold a hearing where both sides shall have an opportunity to present their arguments and any evidence for or against the redrawn map, and the trial court shall then enter an order either entering recommending approval or disapproval of the redrawn map."

Experts say if Lewis does accept the job of map mediator and accepts submissions for alternate maps, he is likely to hire an expert to consult in the logistical challenge of map drawing as court have traditionally done, also known as a special master. That's what happened the one and only other time the court drew the state's congressional districts -- in 1992.

"You're kind of treading on new ground,'' said Miguel DeGrandy, a Miami attorney and former legislator who led the challenge against the Democrat-drawn 1992 congressional maps. "Either the Supreme Court will tell the trial court to get a special master or they will hire their own special master. None of them are experts on redistricting and they are not map drawers. A special master is the common sense way to go."

Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political science professor who has written two books on Florida redistricting, noted that the "the stable of people who do that is very small" and they are likely to "reflect the sentiment of the court."

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