On Thursday, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis released his opinion in the trial over the state’s most recent redistricting process, which redesigned the lines of Florida’s 27 congressional districts to reflect population growth over the last decade.
Lewis ruled that the congressional map drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature is both invalid and unconstitutional.
The map resulted in the election of 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats.
Responding to Judge Lewis’ ruling, Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters – which filed the lawsuit against the map – said the judge had made had the right decision, and one that upheld the will of the voters. In November 2010, Florida voters approved two ballot measures known as the Fair Districts amendments, requiring lawmakers to draw compact districts that conform to county and city boundaries.
“For the first time, a group of citizens has shown that with commitment and perseverance, they can take on the might and unlimited resources of the Florida Legislature and win by exposing what the judge calls ‘the secret, organized campaign to subvert the supposedly open and transparent redistricting process,’ ” Macnab wrote.
The League of Women Voters said that the judge’s ruling “puts real teeth in the Fair Districts amendments,” and makes it much more difficult – if not impossible – for lawmakers to pass gerrymandered congressional maps in the future.
“With many other states grappling with the cancer of gerrymandering, this nationally precedent-setting decision sends a clear message that triumphs in the name of fair and transparent government are possible,” Macnab wrote. “This is a thrilling victory for the people of Florida and for the open, fair and accountable government that for decades the League has worked tirelessly to promote.”
The Florida Legislature, which hired an attorney to defend the map, is expected to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, and it’s not clear if the judge’s ruling will impact the 2014 congressional elections by forcing state legislators to redraw the lines before Florida’s Aug. 26 state primary and Nov. 4 general election.
In a strongly worded ruling, Lewis said state lawmakers worked behind the scenes with political consultants to make a “mockery” of the Fair Districts amendments. The main goal of the maps, the judge said, was to protect incumbents – primarily Republican incumbents.
The ruling could have a huge impact on the congressional districts in the Orlando area. In the state’s 5th Congressional District, Democrat Corrine Brown takes in parts of Orlando’s African-American neighborhoods to link to a district mainly based in Jacksonville – two hours away – so the district will have a minority-majority.
Florida’s 7th Congressional District, represented by Republican John Mica and covering the Orlando suburbs in Orange, Seminole and Volusia counties, and the 10th Congressional District, represented by Republican Daniel Webster and covering parts of Orange, Lake and Polk counties, are the kinds of districts designed to be safe for GOP incumbents, the judge noted.
The judge made his ruling on Thursday after a 12-day trial in May, in response to the lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters andCommon Cause Florida.
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