TALLAHASSEE — The plaintiffs who filed suit over Florida’s congressional redistricting process have asked 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Allen Winsor to remove himself from the panel handling the case because he represented the Florida House in the last redistricting cycle.
Common Cause Florida, FairDistricts Now and five individual voters filed a motion late Tuesday asking Winsor to recuse himself from the lawsuit the groups filed March 11, asking the federal court to set the new congressional districts.
Winsor, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Donald Trump, is one of three judges named by Chief Judge William Pryor to a panel to handle the case. Also on the panel is U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers, a George W. Bush appointee, and U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan, a Barack Obama appointee.
“Irrespective of his ability to remain evenhanded, Judge Winsor’s extensive advocacy and litigation efforts in Florida’s last redistricting cycle on behalf of the Florida House of Representatives ... raise legitimate questions about his role in deciding Florida’s congressional district plans in this redistricting cycle,” the motion states.
The motion said that while Winsor was a lawyer in private practice at the GrayRobinson law firm, he not only represented the Florida House on a series of redistricting issues from 2005 to 2013, he also actively attempted to undercut the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution.
The Fair Districts amendments establish standards that attempt to reduce political favoritism in drawing legislative and congressional districts. In 2009, three years before redistricting and more than a year before the amendments made it to the ballot and were approved by voters by a 63 percent majority, Winsor was on the legal team advising legislators who held committee meetings grilling sponsors about their intentions behind the amendments.
He also advised lawmakers who put an alternative redistricting amendment on the 2010 ballot, known as Amendment 7, which gave communities of interest priority over the anti-gerrymandering standards in the Fair Districts amendments. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Amendment 7 was misleading and removed it from the ballot.
Winsor also represented the House of Representatives in cases brought by former congresswoman Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and current U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, who were challenging the Fair Districts standards.
During his judicial confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Winsor testified that his firm’s “representation of the House was broader than litigation.”
“Leading up to the enactment of the maps, we worked with and advised House leaders and staff and coordinated with experts,” he said.
Now, Winsor is being asked to intervene on Florida’s congressional redistricting map.
The plaintiffs have asked for the court to draw the map, arguing that the decision by Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the congressional maps, and the Legislature’s inability to reach a resolution during the regular legislative session, has led to an impasse on the issue.
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Under state law, legislators or affected individuals may petition the court when there is an impasse on redistricting and ask the court to step in to complete a map in time for candidates to qualify for office. The deadline this year for qualifying is June 17.
DeSantis vetoed the congressional map legislation on Tuesday and called lawmakers back to a special session from April 19 to April 22 to propose a map that is more to his liking.
House and Senate leaders responded in a joint statement that they would “exhaust every effort in pursuit of a legislative solution.”
But the plaintiffs say that there is no indication that an impasse has been overcome, and they argue that Winsor cannot be an impartial judge.
“Judge Winsor’s work as the longstanding Florida House’s legal counsel, and his efforts to defeat those redistricting standards, would make it difficult for an informed lay observer to have confidence in his fair resolution of this matter,” they said.
Reached late Wednesday, Winsor’s office would not say whether or not he had made a decision on the motion.
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