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House Wants Details on Critics' Congressional Maps

Lawyers for the Florida House are asking the state Supreme Court to allow them to dig deeper into the origins of proposed congressional districts submitted by organizations and voters who successfully sued to overturn a map drawn by the Legislature in 2012.

In a brief filed Thursday, the House's attorneys argued they need more evidence about how the plaintiffs' proposed districts came about, given that a coalition of voting-rights organizations and a group of voters worked with Democratic political operatives to draw maps submitted this week in Leon County circuit court.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who has the task of coming up with a congressional map for the Supreme Court to consider, will hold a hearing next week to look at seven sets of proposed districts: two drawn by the Florida Senate; one submitted by the House; three proposed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida; and one floated by a group of voters known as the Romo plaintiffs.

In their Thursday filing with the Supreme Court, the House's lawyers asked justices to lift a previous ban on discovering additional evidence in the case, as the House seeks to make sure that the plaintiffs' maps don't violate the state's anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters in 2010.

"Without apparent shame, plaintiffs have presented to the trial court alternative maps that were drawn, reviewed, discussed, modified, and approved in a closed process, in complete darkness, by national political operatives," the filing says. "The fact that plaintiffs' maps, despite their origins, are pending before the trial court for a possible recommendation to this (Supreme) Court should dismay and disturb all Floridians."

The congressional map drawn by lawmakers in 2012, and slightly tweaked in 2014, was rejected by the Supreme Court in July for violating the Fair Districts amendments. That ruling relied heavily on evidence that Republican political consultants secretly funneled proposed maps to the Legislature through a public comment process.

The task of redrawing the maps fell to Lewis after a special legislative session in August imploded because of differences between the House and Senate over how to arrange districts in Southwest Florida and the Interstate 4 corridor.

In a statement issued late Thursday, a lawyer for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause accused lawmakers of trying to create a distraction.

"The House's motion, once again seeking irrelevant discovery about plaintiffs' alternative maps, only underscores the unfortunate reality that Legislature would rather attack and try to smear the plaintiffs in this case, (than) defend the constitutionality of its own maps," attorney David King said.

The League of WomenVoter's proposed maps, which suggested a different configuration of districts in South Florida, were drawn by an employee of Strategic Telemetry. The founder of that firm worked for the presidential campaigns of Democratic nominees John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008, and Strategic Telemetry is ensnared in a controversy over maps it helped craft for Arizona's independent redistricting committee.

The Romo plaintiffs, a group of voters supported by the Florida Democratic Party, conceded in court papers this week that they consulted with employees of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee while drafting their proposal.

King's clients fought back late Thursday in their own filing with the Supreme Court, saying the identities of who came up with the maps are irrelevant. The brief also drew a distinction between the way lawmakers and consultants drafted districts in 2012 and the way the plaintiffs' maps were drawn for the court process.

"The coalition plaintiffs are not secretly submitting proposed maps through subterfuge, and the courts are certainly not conspiring with the plaintiffs to secretly consider these maps," it says. "The plaintiffs have submitted their maps through public filings in court under their own names that directly identify who helped prepare the maps."