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Florida's Congressional Districts Rejected As Gerrymandered

Jul 9, 2015

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's congressional maps don't meet the requirements of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits political lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or a political party. The court ordered the Legislature to try drawing the maps again.

The ruling means there could be an upheaval as incumbents seek re-election and candidates from both parties seek to fill open seats. Florida has 27 congressional districts and the court ordered eight be redrawn, along with any districts they border.

Those include the Tampa Bay districts held by Democrat Kathy Castor and Republican David Jolly.

The court chastised the Republican-led Legislature for working behind the scenes to draw the maps.

"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny," the ruling said.

A coalition that included the League of Women Voters challenged the lines, saying Republicans who drew them up ignored the new constitutional requirements approved by voters in 2010. A lower court agreed that GOP leaders and operatives made a mockery of the amendment, but only ordered two central Florida districts be redrawn.

Pamela Goodman is chair of the League of Women Voters of Florida.

Goodman says the ruling includes not only the eight districts, but "associated districts" that are adjacent to the eight mentioned. So she says in essence, the majority of the state's congressional districts will have to be redrawn.

"It is a huge, huge victory for all the citizens of Florida. Obviously, the Supreme Court of Florida took our lawmakers to the woodshed - as they should - and went even beyond what was requested in the eight districts they are requiring them to redraw," she said.

She says this means the state Legislature has to reconvene in a special session and submit the new maps within 100 days. And the Florida Supreme Court will decide if they're viable.

"Obviously, they are saying this must be done correct this time," she says. "It must be done under the constraints and mandates of Amendments 5 and 6, which the people put into the Constitution for them to adhere to, back in 2010."

Goodman says the ruling affects more than just Florida.

"It's a victory not only for Florida, but for so many other states that are struggling with lawmakers that are not adhering to appropriate standards in drawing their districts, where lawmakers are choosing their voters, rather than voters choosing their lawmakers."

Republicans have maintained that the maps adhere to constitutional requirements despite evidence that political operatives helped draw them.

It's yet to be seen how the ruling will affect the majority of Florida's members of Congress who are seeking re-election, as well as their challengers.