Florida congressional map’s legality awaits decision

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A Florida judge deciding a landmark trial has been given starkly different views of whether legislators violated the law and drew up new congressional districts in 2012 in a way to help Republicans be more easily elected.

The 12-day trial over the maps wrapped up earlier this month. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who is deciding the case, required the two sides to submit closing written statements, which they did last week. They disagree sharply over whether legislators did anything illegal.

Lewis is expected to rule by the end of the month. The judge could call on the Legislature to redraw the districts, but it is likely the case will be appealed no matter who wins.

The trial marks the first test of a 2010 constitutional amendment approved by voters that said legislators could no longer draw up districts to favor incumbents or members of a political party.

Attorneys for the groups suing the Legislature, which include the League of Women Voters, contend the testimony during the trial proved that what legislators did was the “very antithesis” of what voters demanded.

“Although legislative defendants repeatedly represented they were conducting an open, transparent, and non-political redistricting process, the evidence at trial revealed a separate, highly partisan process conducted in the shadows,” states the legal brief submitted by the group’s attorneys.

They pointed to several pieces of evidence including testimony that a top House aide shared maps with a Republican consultant before they were made public. Another map, which resembled one put together by one consultant, was submitted in the name of a college student who said under oath he had nothing to do with it. The groups suing the Legislature also noted that legislative records, including emails, were deleted soon after lawmakers approved the new maps.

The brief asked Lewis to throw out the entire map, but it also took aim at several districts as unconstitutional, including a district that winds from Jacksonville to Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown. Attorneys allege legislators packed Democrats in Brown’s district in order to make it easier for Republicans in adjoining districts.

Legislative attorneys, meanwhile, assert that the evidence produced during the trial did not prove that legislators intended to draw districts to help Republicans. They said efforts by GOP consultants “never merged” with legislators and no one outside “infected the sterile ways of the redistricting suites.”

The attorneys for the House and Senate said the case was built on a “pyramid of inferences, a series of mental gymnastics” and that the judge would have to believe that every single witness including the current House Speaker and Senate president “lied under oath” about their activities.

Reprinted with permission from the Associated Press.