A group of voters backed by the Florida Democratic Party called for a Leon County judge to at least temporarily halt use of the state’s new plan for congressional districts, in part because of a seat held by a Democratic member of Congress, and filed an alternative plan to the one the GOP-controlled Legislature produced, reports the News Service of Florida.
In a brief filed with the court, lawyers for the plaintiffs hammered the seat held by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown as a “hideously non-compact” district drawn for no other reason than to extract black voters from other seats and further GOP majorities elsewhere in the map.
The brief says Brown’s district has long fueled calls for change, leading to the Fair Districts amendments that voters adopted in 2010 and under which the party is now challenging the lines.
“But despite the fact that this district was the driving force behind the constitutional amendment — the veritable poster child for gerrymandering — the Legislature has defiantly configured the district to perpetuate its history of gerrymandering,” the brief says.
The fight over the congressional lines is part of an intricate legal battle being waged on several levels. It is separate from the Florida Supreme Court’s automatic review of plans for legislative districts, which prompted justices to throw out the first draft of the map for state Senate.
And both the legislative and congressional plans still have to be looked at by the U.S. Justice Department or a three-judge federal panel to make sure they comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Florida has to get that “pre-clearance” because of a history of racial or language discrimination in five counties.
Attached to the brief is a suggested congressional map developed by the Democratic Party on behalf of the voters suing the state.
“This is what a constitutionally valid map looks like,” Chairman Rod Smith said in a statement issued by the party. ” … After watching this session it was clear the Republican-led Legislature would never produce a map that complied with Fair Districts — so we did it ourselves.”
It would lower the number of counties touched by Brown’s district from eight to seven, with two of those counties being wholly contained within the boundaries for the seat.
The new district would comprise most of the western half of Duval County and cut across the northwestern corner of Clay County, include all of Union and Bradford counties and pick up parts of Alachua, Marion and Putnam counties.
It would be about 40.1 percent black, a dramatic decrease in the black population. But supporters say the new district would still allow black voters an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
The proposal would also remove an arm from one congressional district that reaches across Tampa Bay to pull a southern section of St. Petersburg into a coalition district based in Hillsborough County. Democrats say that arm isn’t necessary to strengthen the Hillsborough district’s minority voting strength and is instead aimed at helping Republicans in the neighboring district in Pinellas County.
“That’s always been nothing more than blatant partisanship,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.
The map also consolidates Orange County, splitting it between just two congressional districts while maintaining a district meant to allow Latinos in Central Florida to elect a candidate of their choice.
In all, Democrats believe the plan will draw them closer to parity in the state’s congressional delegation, which remains largely Republican despite a voter-registration edge for Democrats and a state that splits nearly down the middle in most elections.
“We think this is a very fair map,” Arceneaux said.
But it could stir opposition from a variety of sources, including Republicans who insist that the congressional map drawn by the Legislature complies with the Fair Districts amendments.
And Brown herself is likely to protest any map that reduces the black population in her district. She has fought the Fair Districts amendments in federal court, arguing that they are little more than an attempt to water down the influence of the Voting Rights Act in redistricting decisions.