Court Considers Bid By Congresswoman To Throw Out Map
With this year's elections just months away, attorneys for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown tried on Friday to convince federal judges to throw out the current boundaries for Florida's congressional districts.
The Jacksonville Democrat maintains that the current map violates federal voting laws by diluting the voting rights of minorities. Judges hearing the case sounded skeptical and repeatedly pointed out that recent voting history shows that Brown's new district has supported black candidates.
The three-judge panel did not rule, and said they wanted all additional evidence submitted by mid-April in order to quickly resolve the case. Qualifying for congressional candidates is in June.
The state Supreme Court last December approved a new map for Florida's 27 congressional districts that will upend the state's political landscape and could result in the defeat of several incumbents. Under the proposal, Brown's district has been shifted from one that runs south from Jacksonville to Orlando to one that now stretches westward to Tallahassee.
"It's not about me winning," Brown said during a press conference at a restaurant with her supporters. "It's about the African-Americans having an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice."
Brown, who attended the hearing with busloads of supporters from Jacksonville, said afterward she was prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. Under federal law, any appeal would go directly to the high court.
David King, an attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida and the groups that sued to get Florida's districts changed, maintained that Brown was ignoring data that shows the new map will result in an additional minority district in the Orlando area. King said there were more opportunities for black voters than "the map they want to go back to."
Brown's bid to save her district came the same week that the House Ethics Committee announced it opened an investigation into a number of allegations against her, including "fraudulent activity" with an unnamed organization. Brown refused on Friday to answer detailed questions, but maintained "I'm clean" after being asked multiple times about it.
Florida voters in 2010 approved the "Fair Districts" standards, which say that legislators cannot draw districts intended to help incumbents or a member of a political party. A coalition of groups challenged the congressional map approved by legislators in 2012, saying it violated the new standards. In a stinging ruling in July 2015, the state Supreme Court said Republican operatives had "tainted" efforts to draw up maps and ordered that eight districts be redrawn.
GOP leaders held a special session in August but they deadlocked over which map to pass. A Tallahassee judge recommended a new map that was eventually approved by the state Supreme Court. Some members of Congress — including Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham and Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo — have been placed in new districts that may be difficult to win.
Brown's district is a crucial feature of that new map, because voting rights groups contended that the old configuration allowed Republicans to pack minority voters into one district to make it easier for GOP candidates to win in adjoining districts.
William Sheppard, a lawyer for Brown, told the judges that it wasn't right to harm voters now in Brown's district because of the GOP-controlled Legislature's actions.
"These black voters should not pay the price for some Republican gerrymandering," Sheppard said.
Brown has also maintained that the new district is skewed because it includes thousands of prisoners, many of them black, who cannot vote. She even held up a large sign to her supporters that read "25 Prisons."
King told judges the inclusion of prisoners is irrelevant because the voting history data does not include prisoners since they are not allowed to vote.