After a bitter legal tussle that has veered between federal and state courts, hundreds of pages of documents and emails that could expose the role that Republican consultants played in drawing new Florida congressional districts will likely finally be made public.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday turned down an emergency request from a GOP consultant to block the release of documents from Florida’s redistricting process. The Florida Supreme Court has already ordered the unsealing of the documents on Dec. 1.
Pat Bainter and his Gainesville-based firm Data Targeting had filed an emergency petition to Thomas asking that the documents remain sealed until at least February.
But Thomas, who is responsible for handling emergency appeals from Florida, turned down the request without comment on Friday.
A circuit judge cited the 538 pages of documents and emails as one reason why he ruled this summer that the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature violated voter approved standards that say congressional districts cannot be drawn to favor any political party or incumbent.
Bainter’s lawyers maintained release of the documents would violate his First Amendment rights as well as trade secrets. But the state Supreme Court rejected that argument, pointing out that Bainter had engaged “gamesmanship” and had waited until the last moment to assert that releasing the documents would violate First Amendment rights. The high court ruling noted that at one point Bainter had maintained he had no real role in redistricting and that he had an “after the fact interest.”
Media organizations, including The Associated Press, had asked in a friend of the court brief for the documents to be released.
Lawyers who represented the groups challenging the districts said the records will reveal the “shadow process” they said existed between the consultants and legislators to violate the “Fair Districts” standards adopted by voters in 2010.
Judge Terry Lewis in July agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. Legislators in August adopted a new map that alters seven of the state’s existing 27 districts and shifts nearly 400,000 voters in central and north Florida. Those changes, however, will not take effect until the 2016 elections.