From Inside the Lines: Florida Democratic Party formally responds to Republican claims in Fair Districts Preclearance Application

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Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith today submitted to the U.S. Justice Department? Civil Rights Division the party? response to the Florida House and Florida Senate? application for preclearance on the Fair District Amendments.

In his response with the Justice Department, Chairman Smith writes:

The Legislature? submission contends that the Amendments hypothetically may have a retrogressive effect. This letter will demonstrate that the language of the new constitutional provisions is unambiguous and the Legislature? suggestion that the Amendments potentially could be applied in a retrogressive manner finds no support in either the language of the Amendments or the purpose behind their adoption. On the contrary, the Amendments firmly embed the principle of racial fairness in the Florida Constitution to further protect minority voting rights. Indeed, not only was the intent of the drafters to support racial fairness, but also the Amendments?public supporters included minority and civil rights organizations that have been historical advocates of racial fairness in voting rights.

Chairman Smith notes that hypothetical arguments made by the Republicans are irrelevant to the issue of preclearance on the amendments:

The Florida Legislature? preclearance submission speculates about what ?ould?be argued when crafting or evaluating a redistricting plan, the ?otential obstacles?to minority voting strength, and how the Amendments may ?erhaps?be interpreted by a court in light of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Preclearance Submission at 5-6. But there is no rational reason to engage in hypothetical scenarios at this stage. The Attorney General? preclearance of the Amendments would not, of course, exempt from the preclearance requirement the implementation of the particular voting change that is governed by the Amendments as a matter of Florida law. In other words, the redistricting maps the Florida Legislature ultimately draws will themselves be subject to preclearance review, at which point the Attorney General will have the opportunity to evaluate whether the Amendments have been misapplied to allow for retrogression. Therefore, if, in the future, the Amendments are misinterpreted in a way that creates a plan that violates Section 5, that plan will fail preclearance because of those misinterpretations, not because of the text or intent of the new constitutional provisions.

Chairman Smith adds that the Republicans?claims that the Fair District Amendments would hurt minority representation are ?articularly puzzling in light of the fact that the Florida Legislature will be charged with interpreting and applying the Amendments in the first instance.?

Chairman Smith concludes:

The Amendments explicitly protect minority voting rights, creating a state constitutional right to an equal opportunity to elect minority-preferred candidates where the law once was silent. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires an analysis of whether minority groups will be ?orse off than they had been before the change.? 28 C.F.R. ?51.54(a). The Amendments provide just the opposite, enabling redistricting legislation that will better protect minority voting strength.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.