1. Florida Politics

With options limited, Florida legislators remain silent about redistricting plans

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has threatened to sue over how her District 5 is redrawn by legislators.
Published Jul. 11, 2015

TALLAHASSEE — Uncertainty continued to reign in Florida's political world Friday, a day after the state Supreme Court declared Florida's congressional map invalid and ordered up a remedy by Oct. 17.

Legislative leaders remained silent about what's next, saying they were absorbing the implications of the ruling that blew up the congressional map.

But legal scholars and redistricting experts said legislators have limited options and, with the Supreme Court giving them only 100 days and employing the unusual move of retaining jurisdiction over the case to ensure that the process moves quickly, the legislators are under the gun to make some decisions fast.

"Whatever procedure the state Legislature is going to adopt, they need to do it right now," said Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who has been a redistricting consultant in 14 states.

"They have to justify how the map was formed and it has to be very transparent. One hundred days is a very tight deadline to do all of that and get a new map."

While Republican legislative leaders may be under some pressure to try to fight the ruling — in an attempt to retain the existing districts for another cycle and help Republicans hold on to the U.S. House — the prospects for litigation also are limited, the experts said.

They could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, said Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and an expert on redistricting law.

But the Florida Supreme Court "was very careful in analyzing not only the Florida state Constitution but also the very recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding the elections clause," he said. "I don't think there is any merit to seeking federal review, but, if it was attempted, there is no reason for the Florida Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court to press pause in the meantime."

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, has threatened to sue if lawmakers follow through on the court's direction to dismantle her north-south, minority-controlled district to have it align across the top of the state in an east-west direction.

Finally, there is a pending challenge to Congressional District 5, held by Brown, that had been put on hold until the state litigation was resolved. Levitt said that case could move forward, or someone could bring a new federal challenge asking a federal court to redraw the lines.

In either case "it would be extremely unlikely" that any challenge in the federal courts would put a halt to the state redistricting process, Levitt said. "The train's still moving."

The resulting uncertainty permeates "every level of government," said Steve Vancore, a Tallahassee-based political consultant. "There are city commissioners right now thinking about what's going to happen to the House seat, if the senator moves to Congress. We've never seen a shakeup like this in Florida politics in modern history."

If legislators have a plan, they're not saying.

"I thought the court decision was wrong, but it's valid and we have to comply," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, who directed the House rewrite last August of the rejected congressional map. "The last map we drew had bipartisan support in both Houses. This decision was disappointing."

Hours after Thursday's ruling, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli sent a memo to lawmakers reminding them "not to speak to members of Congress, staff or political consultants about redistricting at this time," and urged them to retain all communications and records relating to redistricting.

Senate President Andy Gardiner issued a similar memo.

Meanwhile, if the Legislature fails to produce a map, the court opened the door for it to take over the process and even cited the Colorado Supreme Court's ruling that states that take over the redistricting process "cannot be characterized as 'usurping' the legislature's authority; rather, the court order fulfills the state's obligation to provide constitutional districts in the absence of legislative action."

Glenn Burhans, an election law expert with the Tallahassee firm of Stearns, Weaver and Miller, said the court "has laid down the gauntlet — if the Legislature refuses or fails to draw a map that complies with the Florida Supreme Court's ruling, the court will have to take further action."

If that happens, the court has three options, the experts said:

• The court could hire an expert, such as a special master, who draws the districts, which the court then approves. New York's current congressional districts were resolved this way.

• The court could look back at the legislative record and choose among the plans that have been submitted.

• The court could ask to have additional plans submitted by parties and the public.

If the process doesn't move fast enough, the court has the power to postpone the congressional primary to give candidates more time to meet filing deadlines, said McDonald of UF. North Carolina was faced with this scenario in the 1990s.

Burhans also speculated that the Legislature could take direction from the dissenting opinion by Justice Charles Canady and challenge any attempt by the court to draw maps as a violation of the separation of powers.

"Perhaps there will be a hybrid approach," he said. "Go into special session and redraw the map and if, at that point, the FSC rejects it again, seek to block the court from drawing the map with a separation of powers attack."

One thing is clear: The court's ruling said that Florida will have constitutional maps in place for the 2016 congressional elections.

"My expectation is the Legislature will act," McDonald said. "How does it act? Does it comply with the Supreme Court as faithfully as possible or try to covertly inject politics into it and play games with it? They're really playing with fire if they do something like that because the court has already said they're not going to tolerate that."

Times/Herald staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report. Contact Mary Ellen Klas at Follow @MaryEllenKlas.


  1. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  2. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  3. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  4. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  5. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  6. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  7. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  8. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  9. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.
  10. Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks to supporters as former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, left, stands near during a campaign stop at at Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla., Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Crist is locked in a tight race against Gov. Rick Scott in one of the most negative gubernatorial campaigns in Florida history. The two disagree on most major issues, including health care, the minimum wage, Cuba policy, gay marriage and medical marijuana. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) ORG XMIT: FLAD102 ALAN DIAZ  |  AP
    The Florida Republican-turned-Democrat said Biden’s ‘record of getting things done speaks for itself.’