Inside the Lines: Judge rejects 'Fair Districts' challenge

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A federal district court judge in Miami upheld controversial new redistricting standards for Congressional maps Friday, but opponents vowed to appeal in a move that could result in lawmakers drawing maps based on rules still being challenged in court, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

Judge Ursula Ungaro, who said she had essentially made up her mind before Friday’s hearing but wanted to see if oral arguments could sway her, went ahead with an order she had already written.

Ungaro rejected the argument that the anti-gerrymandering amendments put into the constitution last year amounted to state voters meddling in the redistricting powers granted to the Legislature by the U.S. Constitution.

“Amendment VI does not supplant the Florida Legislature,” Ungaro ruled. “Rather, it attaches a series of conditions, adopted in accordance with the state constitution, to eventual legislative action on redistricting.”

The two members of Congress who brought the case — U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican — promised to appeal.

“It’s just step one, and so we’re going on, all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary,” Brown said.

That could complicate efforts for the Legislature to complete the once-a-decade redistricting process. Lawmakers will begin considering maps later this month, with a session expected to be dominated by redistricting starting in January.

The legal dispute has caused an at-times bizarre series of alliances. Brown has joined not only Diaz-Balart, but also the staunchly conservative Republican majority in the state House in fighting against the standards. The members of Congress argue the standards could dilute minority representation in Washington, in particular, though also in Tallahassee.

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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.