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Florida's secretary of state says redistricting case should be put on hold

Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee
Florida Secretary of State
Attorneys for Secretary of State Laurel Lee say state court — rather than federal court — should handle reapportionment if the Legislature does not produce a congressional map.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee filed a motion Friday in U.S. district court in Tallahassee seeking a stay of a federal lawsuit filed March 11 by the groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now and five voters.

With lawmakers heading into a special legislative session this month, Secretary of State Laurel Lee is asking a federal court to put on hold a case that argues judges should set Florida’s new congressional districts.

Lee filed a motion Friday in U.S. district court in Tallahassee seeking a stay of a federal lawsuit filed March 11 by the groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now and five voters.

The motion came three days after Gov. Ron DeSantis called a special legislative session from April 19 to April 22 to try to reach an agreement on new congressional districts as part of the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

Attorneys for Lee also pointed to a similar lawsuit filed last month in state court in Leon County. They said the state court — rather than the federal court — should handle reapportionment if the Legislature does not produce a congressional map.

The motion said “all three branches of the state government are currently addressing and will address reapportionment.”

“A stay is appropriate to allow the political branches to do their work,” the motion said. “After all, the Florida Legislature is constitutionally tasked to reapportion the state’s congressional districts.”

The state and federal lawsuits were filed after DeSantis said he would veto a congressional redistricting plan passed by the Legislature. Plaintiffs argued, in part, that an impasse between DeSantis and lawmakers jeopardized the chances of reaching agreement on a map — and that judges should step in to make sure revamped districts are set before this year’s elections.

DeSantis vetoed the legislative plan Tuesday, along with calling the special session.

In a document filed Thursday, the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit indicated they would oppose a stay. The document said the plaintiffs and a group of potential intervenors in the case “believe the legislative impasse, which commenced this action, remains the status quo. Based on the public statements of the governor and the Legislature, there is no reason to think that the positions of the Legislature or the governor have changed, nor to expect that the impasse will be resolved in the special session called for April 19-22, 2022. In the view of plaintiffs and proposed Intervenors, time is of the essence and the (federal) court should be prepared to put a map in place as soon as possible following the close of the special session.”

The federal court is scheduled Monday to hold a case-management conference that likely will involve a series of scheduling and other procedural issues in the case.

Last month, William Pryor, chief judge of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, designated U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers and appellate Judge Adalberto Jordan to handle the lawsuit. Pryor wrote that federal law requires a three-judge panel in such situations, though the panel can subsequently decide that it should not have been formed.

The plaintiffs filed a motion Tuesday asking Winsor to step aside from the case because he represented the Florida House on a series of redistricting issues from 2005 to 2013 while a lawyer in private practice.

In a response Friday, Lee’s attorneys disputed that Winsor needs to recuse himself from the case. Lee is the named defendant in the federal lawsuit after DeSantis and legislative leaders were dropped as defendants.

“Specifically, Judge Winsor was not a lawyer in this case concerning Florida’s need for a new congressional map because of the results of the 2020 decennial census,” Lee’s response said. “Judge Winsor instead served as a lawyer in different cases, long since resolved, none of which concern malapportionment or malapportionment based on the 2020 decennial census.”

Jim Saunders is the Executive Editor of The News Service Of Florida.
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