Voting-rights group makes final pitch in redistricting case

By Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida
Published On: Jun 12 2014 08:09:29 PM EDT
Voting

Bob Crowley/CNN

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

A Leon County judge should throw out the state's current congressional districts as illegal because they were drawn as part of a secret process that favored Republicans, according to new filings from a coalition of voting-rights organizations opposed to the map.

In a brief and a proposed ruling for Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to consider, the plaintiffs in a trial that ended last week tried to tie together the threads of 12 days of testimony about congressional districts approved by the Legislature in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process.

The brief, in particular, is meant to substitute for closing statements that were canceled because of a scheduling issue.

"The 2012 congressional plan is exactly what one would expect from a legislature that fought the Fair Districts amendments at every hedgerow, involved partisan operatives in its decision-making, and made key decisions outside of the public eye," said the brief, filed late Wednesday.

The landmark trial is the first time that a court has considered a challenge to the state's congressional map under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by the voters in 2010. Opponents of the map contend that the Legislature tried to get around those redistricting standards to help the Republican Party and some incumbents, in violation of the new rules.

"Although legislative defendants repeatedly represented they were conducting an open, transparent, and non-political redistricting process, the evidence at trial revealed a separate, highly partisan process conducted in the shadows --- one involving secret meetings and collaboration with partisan operatives, purges of public records, closed-door sessions among legislators and staffers, and efforts to launder partisan maps through public submissions so that legislative defendants could surreptitiously rely on them without facing public criticism or scrutiny," the brief says.

It focuses on many of the issues that were at the center of the two-and-a-half week trial: where a map filed under the name of a former Florida State University student came from, given that the student denies having drawn or submitted the map; whether GOP political consultants were honest when they said they drew maps as an intellectual exercise, not to serve as a guide for the Legislature; and what happened at a December 2010 meeting between consultants and legislative employees involved in redistricting.

"The meeting attendees --- and specifically the political operatives --- were the council of proverbial foxes summoned to guard and protect the redistricting hen house," the brief said.

The Legislature is scheduled to file a reply to the brief on Friday. The plaintiffs could follow with a response to the Legislature's arguments next week.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, state House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, issued a statement calling on Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the redistricting process based on the allegations in the trial. Thurston is running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Bondi, a Republican, in November.

"It is clear that there was unethical, if not outright illegal behavior while the maps were being drawn," Thurston said. "Pam Bondi should immediately open an investigation into any and all illegality that may have taken place."

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