From 2012 to 2016, the Florida Legislature spent millions of your tax dollars to defend district maps that Senate leaders later admitted they had rigged illegally, intentionally violating the FairDistricts Amendments that voters approved by 63% in 2010. They engaged in this illegal conduct to manipulate congressional and legislative district lines to make it easier for Republican candidates to win elections.
Citizens had to go to court and fight for four years to get fairly drawn maps that complied with the FairDistricts Amendments. This resulted in new congressional and state senate maps. Those newly drawn, constitutionally compliant maps have been in place only since 2016. Yet, as the Legislature again starts the decennial process of drawing legislative and congressional maps, the Florida Senate’s top redistricting official apparently wants to throw out those court approved maps and start all over with a “blank slate.” This should not be an option. Florida’s existing congressional and state senate maps should be the starting point for any adjustments that need to be made.
Every 10 years after the census, our Florida Legislature is required to adjust voting districts to account for changes in population. Some voting districts add more population and others add less, so it follows that all districts need to be adjusted to some degree. But given the effort and cost of the court battles that got us court approved maps in 2016, those maps should provide the template for drawing new districts.
As one of the seven Florida Supreme Court justices who approved those maps, I saw first-hand the lawsuits that had to be filed and the millions of dollars in legal fees and court costs that had to be spent to get maps that complied with the FairDistricts Amendments. It was unequivocally demonstrated during the course of the litigation that the Legislature had intentionally plotted to avoid following the will of the people who had voted for the provisions of the FairDistricts Amendments. There was evidence presented to the courts that the Legislature had partisan outsiders draw maps that were then presented to the public as legislatively drawn maps. After citizen challengers proved these facts in court, legislative leaders actually admitted that the maps they had published were not constitutionally drawn and should not be used.
This scheme to thwart the will of the people caused all of us to lose trust in the Legislature. So now that redistricting is about to happen again, we must demand that our lawmakers in Tallahassee conduct the coming redistricting in a way that will earn back our trust. The process must be done in the Sunshine and must be transparent, honest and constitutionally compliant. Every step of the process must be open to the public. All mapping should be live streamed from the computers where the maps are really being drawn. Draft maps, mapping data, and all communications must be readily available to the public. Public comment and input must be solicited before and after maps are drafted, and seriously considered.
Our trust can only be earned when there is strict adherence to the ideals, principles, and specific requirements of the Fair Districts Amendments. The people of this state have said in clear language that this is what is expected from the redistricting process. We cannot ever again have a process that takes multiple years to complete, thus disenfranchising some voters for who knows how many voting cycles.
In a real democracy, voters should be able to freely select their representatives and representatives should not be allowed to manipulate election results by selecting their voters. When the redistricting process is conducted pursuant to the provisions of the FairDistricts Amendments, the people’s right to choose their elected officials is protected. Therefore, I urge each legislator on the various redistricting subcommittees to study the FairDistricts provisions and make a commitment to apply the provisions to the present redistricting process. There is no higher calling than serving the public good. Making sure that voters have a fair opportunity to elect the representatives of their choice is in the public interest and the public good. Carrying out the will of the people is a promise you made and is the reason you were elected. I urge legislators to live up to those promises.
However, as concerned citizens, we also have a part to play in this process. Contact your legislators, especially those on the committees tasked with drawing the voting district maps. Tell your legislators they must adhere to the criteria of the FairDistricts Amendments. Let legislators know that you are concerned and you are watching. This is how a democracy works!
Retired Justice Peggy A. Quince was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in December of 1998. Named Chief Justice from 2008-2010, Quince is the first African-American woman to head any branch of Florida government.