Legislature appeals Florida redistricting ruling

Published On: Feb 18 2013 10:59:12 AM EST   Updated On: Feb 18 2013 03:06:26 PM EST

The Republican-led Legislature asked the Florida Supreme Court on Monday to throw out a legal challenge to its 2012 redistricting plan for the state Senate.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero filed the petition for the House and Senate. Cantero argued only the Supreme Court can decide legislative redistricting cases and that the justices already have done so.

He's asking the high court to order a trial judge to dismiss a challenge to the Senate map by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause, National Council of La Raza and several individual plaintiffs.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Legislature's claim last month in Tallahassee and ordered the case to proceed. Lewis wrote that the Legislature's argument "flies in the face of case law." He cited prior Supreme Court and appellate rulings that said trial courts have jurisdiction over redistricting challenges.

The pending lawsuit alleges the Senate map violates an anti-gerrymandering amendment to the Florida Constitution by favoring incumbents and the GOP.

Information that has emerged in connection with the lawsuit, as well as a similar challenge to a new congressional map, includes emails showing top GOP officials met in late 2010 to brainstorm redistricting with political consultants and legislative staffers involved in the remapping process that's done every 10 years.

The "Fair Districts" amendment also requires that redistricting maps protect the ability of minorities to elect candidates of their choice and follow city and county or natural boundaries whenever possible.

A similar amendment imposes the same requirements on congressional redistricting. The challenge to the map lawmakers drew for Florida's 27 congressional districts will not be affected by the Supreme Court's ruling in the Senate case.

That's because the Florida Constitution requires the justices to automatically review only legislative maps, which is the crux of the Legislature's appeal.

"The constitution's express grant of jurisdiction to this court removes such cases from the jurisdiction of circuit courts," Cantero wrote.

Lewis disagreed, pointing out that the Supreme Court itself wrote that it conducted only a "facial review" while the lawsuit plaintiffs contend they are mounting a more detailed "as applied" challenge.

Cantero argues the Supreme Court "did not conduct a mere facial review" even though he acknowledged it had used that term. He cited the justices' use of various computer software programs and registration and elections data to analyze Senate and House maps to show the high court's review was more detailed.

The justices initially upheld the House plan but ruled the Senate map violated the Fair Districts requirements. The Legislature then revised the Senate plan and the Supreme Court upheld the second map.


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