Final arguments made in landmark Florida redistricting trial

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Voting-rights groups failed to prove GOP lawmakers violated the Florida Constitution during redistricting, according to a brief filed by attorneys for the Legislature on Friday.

The brief, reports Brandon Larrabee from the News Service of Florida, is essentially the closing arguments made by the Legislature in the trial over redistricting, which ended this week after 12 days.

Opponents presented their case on Wednesday, and now have until next week to respond to the lawmakers’ brief.

The trial centers on a challenge of the final political map created as part of the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years. Voters groups attempted to link plans submitted by political consultants to the districts that the Legislature ultimately approved.

If they prove such a connection, it will mean that the districts violated the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010, which bar lawmakers from redistricting along political lines in a way that would give preference to a particular political party and candidate.

In the de facto closing argument, Larrabee writes that lawyers representing the Legislature said political consultants “sought out ways to appear relevant” even as they knew lawmakers would not pay attention.

“But their efforts never merged with the map-drawing efforts of the Legislature, and the political consultants and the other members of the public, whatever their intent, never infected the sterile walls of the redistricting suites,” the brief states. “Those who drew the congressional plan, and those who voted to enact it were driven by a strict desire to comply with the constitutional requirements and were never influenced by any partisan motivations of outside political consultants,.”

Taking on the first the redistricting challenge under the 2010 Fair District amendments is Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who expects to rule on the case during the summer; appeals are almost certain to be filed.

The final decision on the redistricted map will likely to be up to the Florida Supreme Court.

Not only was there a lack of evidence offered by the map’s opponents, say lawyers, but the brief also highlights the testimony of legislators and staff members repeatedly saying  that they didn’t get advice on drawing maps from political consultants.

“To accept plaintiffs’ argument,” the brief continues, “this court would have to find that every single witness, including two speakers of the House of Representatives, the president of the Senate, and the legislative staff that drew the maps, lied under oath about their activities related to the drawing of the congressional map.”

Larrabee notes that the brief also tones down the significance of maps allegedly drawn by former Florida State University student Alex Posada. Posada had testified he did not draw or submit a map, even though maps with his name were presented to the Legislature’s public input system.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.