Judge rules Florida Legislature must redraw congressional districts by Aug. 15

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A Florida judge is ordering legislators to hold a special session to draw up a new congressional map for the state.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Friday ruled that the Florida Legislature must draw up new congressional districts by Aug. 15. Lewis said that he will then order a special election later this year for those new districts.

In his ruling, Lewis agreed that the Legislature should be responsible for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts.

But he said he could not at this time push off a new map until 2016. Lewis said to do so would be telling voters “they have been deprived of the equal right of having a say in who represents their interests in Congress for two years.”

There was no immediate reaction on the ruling from the Legislature. A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said the House was reviewing the decision.

Oral arguments, if appropriate will be heard on objections to the map and/or proposed election schedule on August 20.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, the Florida League of Women Voters, is calling Lewis’ decision a “champagne moment for Florida voters.”

Last month, Lewis ruled that the Legislature illegally drew Florida’s congressional districts to primarily benefit the Republican Party. Judge Lewis ruled that two of the state’s 27 congressional districts were invalid and that the map must be redrawn.

Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School who tracks redistricting cases, called the decision a “big victory” for Florida’s voters that could be a model for other states to follow. The judge based his decision on the 2010 “Fair Districts” amendment approved by voters that says districts cannot be drawn to favor an incumbent or a member of a political party.

“It does right by the voters who said they want a new way of doing business,” Levitt said.

It appeared initially that any fallout from the decision would not develop until 2016 because the GOP-controlled Legislature would appeal the ruling. However, legislative leaders declined to appeal Lewis’ ruling.

State elections officials willlikely oppose any effort to change districts now, since ballots for the Aug. 26 primary are already out.

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Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

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.