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Florida politicians react to today’s redistricting ruling

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Florida’s Supreme Court threw out the state’s congressional map on Thursday, in a ruling that found lawmakers illegally gerrymandered political districts.

Justices then ordered the Republican-led Legislature to redraw eight congressional districts, with two that expect to be heavily contested in 2016.

Incumbents directly affected by the ruling are Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, and Lois Frankel, as well as Republican Reps. David Jolly, Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. At least 14 more will be indirectly affected by the new political maps. In all, more than half of Florida’s 27 congressional district could be impacted in some way.

Here is a compilation of responses from members of Congress:

U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, Jacksonville’s 5th Congressional District:

The decision by the Florida Supreme Court is seriously flawed and entirely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters.  It also fails to recognize federal law, in that it did not incorporate the spirit of the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the contradictory standards set by the state’s Fair Districts requirements.

Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years.  Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans.  From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).

Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts.  Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district “compactness,” while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state.  The current District 5 map is essentially the same as the previous District 3 map, which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in adherence to the principles of the Voting Rights Act.  In particular, there is one critical section of the Voting Rights Act which strictly prohibits the fracturing of communities of minority voters into a variety of districts.  This element of the Act is essential in the maintenance of minority representation not just in the state of Florida, but across the entire nation.

Moreover, the reason why African Americans live in the areas in which they do in the first place is a direct result of historical redlining, clearly exemplified by living patterns both here in the state of Florida and easily visible in other states.  In fact, after Emancipation and the Civil War, the Black population of northeastern Florida moved along the St. Johns River, which extends from Jacksonville to just north of Orlando.  Because the land was prone to flooding, it was only natural that the poorest Floridians, including freed slaves, would settle there.  Segregated housing patterns, demanded by restrictive covenants and enforced by Florida courts, kept the African-American population together well into the mid-20th Century, which is the central reason why these communities are segregated into those residential patterns across the state.

For most of my adult life, there were no minority members of Congress elected from Florida, and few African-Americans elected to the Florida House and Senate.  That changed in 1992 when I was elected to Congress together with Rep. Carrie Meek from Miami and Rep. Alcee Hastings from Ft. Lauderdale.

Yet to obtain this seat I had to file a lawsuit.  I fought for four African American seats in the courts, and in the end, we reached a compromise and got three, again – based on the tenets of The Voting Rights Act.  As a result of this lawsuit, in 1993, after nearly 130 years, the state of Florida had three African American federal representatives.  And for the first time in many years, minority community members in the state were represented by people who truly understood them; who grew up in the same neighborhoods and attended the same churches and schools as they did.  I firmly believe that I, as an African American legislator, can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a profound level since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle many of the same challenges and prejudices that they have.

District 5 in Florida, and minority access districts across the nation cannot, will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought gains we have made during the last 50 years.  As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, Tampa’s 14th Congressional District

Florida voters adopted Fair Districts amendments to our Florida Constitution and, today, the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed that districts need to be drawn to ensure that all Floridians have fair representation. I agree with their decision.

No matter how new districts are ultimately drawn, I will continue to stand up for Tampa Bay area families, good jobs, good schools and equal opportunity for all. I am more committed than ever to standing up to the special interests that hold so much sway in Washington and am grateful for the bipartisan support of my friends and neighbors. I will remain focused on boosting higher wages, economic opportunity, college affordability and equal rights, and shifting district lines will only sharpen my focus.

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, Miami’s 26th Congressional District:

Since arriving in Washington I have been focused on improving the quality of life in South Florida and making our country stronger. The potential of new district lines is not a distraction for me nor will it diminish my desire to represent and serve the community in which my wife and I are raising our family.

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Miami’s 25th Congressional District:

At this stage, I am still reviewing the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, and will be interested to see what the State Legislature will do.

U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, West Palm Beach’s 22nd Congressional District (through spokesperson Erin Hale):

Florida’s Congressional maps and redistricting are in the hands of the State Legislature. The Congresswoman is working hard to serve the residents of Palm Beach and Broward County. This Supreme Court decision will not change her focus on her constituents.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District (through spokesperson Sarah Bascom):

Congressman Jolly has always considered District 13 to be a Pinellas county seat and has never concerned himself with where the district lines are drawn throughout the county.  The courts and the legislature will determine next steps and Congressman Jolly will remain focused solely on doing his job and serving all of Pinellas county.  As the Congressman has said many times, if he continues to do the job he was elected to do, the politics will take care of itself.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Miami’s 27th Congressional District:

I look forward to representing the constituents of whatever district the court decides should be drawn up. It has been an incredible experience to have represented every part of Miami-Dade County during my years of public service so in whatever form the district ends up, it will be like coming home again. No worries.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, of Boca Raton’s 21st Congressional District, responded to the ruling earlier Thursday with an emailed fundraising pitch, subject line “Emergency.”

“The Florida Supreme Court just ordered the Congressional District I represent to be redrawn before next year’s election,” the email said. “I have never needed your support like I do right now — today!”

Although the Supreme Court did not give a deadline for redistricting, new maps have to be finished by the 2016 elections.

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.

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