Democrats' Suit Over Florida's Redistricting Goes to Trial

Monday, 19 May 2014 02:15 PM

By Melissa Clyne

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After two years of accusing Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature of designing gerrymandered congressional maps, Democratic groups are getting their day – or weeks – in court, The Miami Herald reports.

In 2012, a newly created congressional map with two new seats resulted in Republicans winning 17 of the state’s 27 districts, and Democrats taking three, according to the Herald.

The plaintiffs, which include the League of Women Voters and other left-leaning groups, want the 2012 map tossed and redrawn by the court. Lawyers for the Legislature defend the maps, saying they were drawn with complete transparency, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Democrats identified "mapping principles" to protect U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, as well as to "increase the number of safe Democratic seats and competitive seats," the Sentinel reports.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis must decide whether the congressional maps were drawn legally. If he rules they were done to "favor or disfavor" a political party, he can order the maps be redrawn, which would surely create "chaos, confusion and havoc" since qualifying is just a month away, University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett told the Sentinel.

The plaintiffs’ case is being funded by the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, founded five years ago to "provide legal support for Democratic redistricting programs," according to the Herald, which notes that the trust is also challenging GOP redistricting plans in Texas, Nevada, and Missouri. It is run by three former members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Herald reports.

The plaintiffs are particularly up in arms over four districts, three of which are located in Central Florida. The four districts are represented by: Democratic U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Kathy Castor of Tampa and Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Webster of Orlando and David Jolly of Pinellas County.

The lengthy witness list, which includes a bevy of Sunshine State political heavyweights, also names Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, according to the Herald. During a deposition, Arceneaux acknowledged that he attempted to draw a district in Sarasota and Manatee counties so that it would have a majority Democratic voting population. The area is currently represented by GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan.

Arceneaux testified during his deposition that he was aware his actions violated the Fair Districts amendment, according to the Herald, which notes that documents show that both political parties used consultants to postulate on how new maps would impact their candidates in elections.

Redistricting occurs once every 10 years to ensure state and federal political voting districts account for population changes, according to The Tampa Tribune. Seeking to subjugate partisan politics from voting districts in this swing state, Florida voters passed the Fair District amendment in 2010.

The plaintiffs contend that new maps drawn by majority Republicans violate the Fair District amendment.

The Legislature wants the lawsuit thrown out and is asking the judge to compel the plaintiffs to pay attorneys’ fees, according to the Tribune.

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