Lawyers for the Legislature have asked the Florida Supreme Court to block a Leon County judge from reconsidering the map for state Senate districts, opening up a new front in the long-running battle over the requirements of the state’s new redistricting standards, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.
The filing comes about a month after Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis rejected a request from the Legislature to dismiss a challenge to the Senate redistricting plan approved last year.
Lewis’ opinion — part of a case filed by a coalition of citizens and voting-rights groups that oppose the Senate map — was the first ruling in what could be a precedent-setting case under the new Fair Districts standards.
At issue is a statement the Florida constitution makes in a different section about the Supreme Court’s automatic review of legislative redistricting maps: “A judgment of the supreme court of the state determining the apportionment to be valid shall be binding upon all the citizens of the state.”
In the new filing, submitted to the court late Friday, lawyers for the Legislature said that clause was in response to a series of lawsuits in the 1960s that left the state’s political boundaries in a state of almost constant flux. Instead, the Florida Supreme Court would handle all arguments against the maps — at least as far as state courts were concerned.
“To interpret this Court‘s jurisdiction over redistricting as non-exclusive would emasculate these reforms,” the lawyers wrote. “The Constitution would no longer prevent decade-long litigation, electoral districts that are in constant limbo, alternating court battles and special legislative sessions, with their attendant public expense, uncertainty, and instability.”
And because the Supreme Court approved a second draft of the Senate map — it voided the first draft — in April, attorneys for the House and Senate argued that there is no room for new challenges.
Those fighting the Senate map counter that the Legislature’s argument would make it nearly impossible to enforce the new standards, because the Supreme Court doesn’t handle “as-applied” cases — which consider facts as well as the law — like circuit courts do. Instead, the high court only reviews “facial” challenges dealing with anything in the map that was obviously unconstitutional.
For example, Lewis could hear testimony or view documents addressing why lawmakers drew the lines a certain way.
A lawyer for the groups fighting the maps blasted the filing.
“This appeal is just another attempt by the Legislature to hide its disregard for the Constitution from the voters of Florida,” attorney Adam Schachter wrote in an email. “They don’t want the public to know how they secretly involved highly paid partisan consultants in the redistricting process.”
The court asked the opponents of the maps to file a response by the end of the month.