Judge gives Florida Legislature two weeks to redraw congressional districts

The judge last month identified two districts as having been drawn to achieve partisan advantages for Republicans in violation of a state constitutional amendment banning political gerrymandering.

Bill Cotterell/Tallahassee Democrat/AP
Attorney David King, representing plaintiffs challenging the Legislature's congressional districting map, argues during a hearing last week in Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee, Fla.

A state judge on Friday gave lawmakers and officials in Florida two weeks to draft new congressional districts to comply with his July 10 ruling invalidating voting boundaries that he found had been drawn to advance Republican partisan interests.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis instructed the Florida Legislature to convene a special session and complete the ordered changes by Aug. 15.

He also ordered the secretary of state and the county supervisors of elections to formulate a plan for a special election in redrawn districts. Florida’s primary election is set for Aug. 26.

Judge Lewis scheduled an Aug. 20 hearing to follow up on the issue.

The judge made national headlines last month when he ruled that Florida’s congressional districts had been drawn in violation of a state constitutional amendment banning political gerrymandering in the drawing of election districts.

He identified two congressional districts, held by Republican Rep. Daniel Webster and Democratic Rep. Corinne Brown, as having been drawn to achieve partisan advantages for Republicans.

Although political gerrymandering is not illegal, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2010 requiring lawmakers to use neutral, nonpartisan criteria when drawing new election districts. The judge found that the Republican-controlled Legislature violated those principles in its redistricting plans.

Following that decision, the next issue to be confronted was how the state would fix the problem. The judge rejected suggestions that elections be allowed to go forward in the illegal districts.

Common Cause Florida was among a coalition of groups that challenged procedures used to redraw the state’s election districts. The group praised the judge’s latest ruling Friday.

“Today, Judge Terry Lewis again protected the rights of Floridians and rejected the Legislature’s attempt to have one more election with congressional districts drawn for partisan advantage rather than fair representation,” Peter Butzin, Common Cause Florida chairman, said in a statement.

“Although holding an election based on fair and constitutional districts may create some logistical challenges, protecting Floridians’ right to select the representatives of their choice is a fundamental value that cannot be put off until next election,” he said.

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