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Fla. Supreme Court says it will have final word on redistricting

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The Florida Supreme Court on Friday said it will have the last word on redrawing the state’s congressional district map.

In a nine-page order, the court told Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to hear from all sides and “then make a recommendation to (this) Court … as to which map proposed by the parties – or which portions of each map – best fulfills the specific directions (of) the Court … and all constitutional requirements.”

The justices made clear that its final decision on the map will be binding.

“The Court notes that the judiciary sometimes must adopt a redistricting plan when the Legislature fails or is unable to do so, as previously occurred in Florida in 1992,” the court’s order said.

But even Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, in a separate opinion, kept hope alive that the Florida Legislature could come up with a new map.

“Sufficient time exists for the Legislature to accomplish this task before the matter is scheduled for a hearing before the trial court, should the House and Senate agree to convene for another special session,” he said.

“However, if the two houses of the Legislature cannot join together to pass a plan within this time, the judiciary must take steps to ensure that a constitutionally compliant congressional redistricting plan is in place … to provide certainty to candidates and voters.”

On Aug. 26, Lewis sought guidance from the high court, saying “it appears unlikely that a Legislative plan will be provided … for review, in a timely fashion.”

The Supreme Court threw out the current map after a two-year-long court challenge by The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause.

The court held that the lines broke a state constitutional prohibition against “gerrymandering,” the manipulation of political boundaries to favor a particular incumbent or party — in this case, Republicans.

Lawmakers later failed to agree on a new map after convening in a two-week Special Session last month.

Relations between the Florida Senate and House broke down after disagreement between two competing versions of boundary lines for Florida’s 27 congressional districts.

House leaders said the Senate map favored Hillsborough County at the expense of portions of Central Florida, and thus would almost certainly be ruled unconstitutional.

On Friday, the court also denied the Florida House’s request to push into the future a deadline for a fix, now at Oct. 17. Yet another Special Session, set for Oct. 19 to Nov. 6, is coming up to redraw the challenged state Senate map.

This story is developing; check back for updates…

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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