Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature, stung by a harshly worded ruling from the state’s highest court, returns to the state Capitol this week for a 12-day special session to draw up new congressional districts.
The final outcome could prompt a major shakeup for the state’s congressional delegation and short-circuit or resurrect the careers of some of the state’s veteran politicians. The session starts Monday and is scheduled to run until Aug. 21.
The court ordered legislators to change the boundaries of eight districts, ruling that previous map-drawing efforts violated voter-approved standards that ban drawing up districts to benefit incumbents or a political party. The Legislature was sued by a coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
The proposed map rolled out last week would affect most of the state’s 27 congressional districts and could result in a shift in the partisan balance of the state’s delegation. Republicans now hold a 17-10 edge even though Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
The court gave the Legislature just 100 days to draw up a new map in advance of the 2016 elections.
This will mark the third time since 2012 that the Legislature has drawn new congressional maps due to three years of legal challenges.
Some legislators, citing the lawsuits, don’t anticipate that lawmakers will make any large changes to the newly proposed map, which was drawn up by legislative staff and lawyers without any input by legislators.
“There is a very good possibility that what we see is what we get,” said House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford.
Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican in charge of the Senate committee drawing the new map, insisted that there will ample chance for legislators to suggest changes as long as they can justify them legally. He said the proposal would be fully “vetted” in public and explained.
But he did acknowledge that some of the proposed changes were done in order to follow instructions from the court.
“We are going to follow that opinion to the best and most reasonable extent,” Galvano said.
If adopted, the initial map would make dramatic changes to the state’s political landscape. Several incumbent members of Congress – including Panhandle Democrat Gwen Graham and central Florida Republican Dan Webster – could find it hard to hold onto their seats. The new map could also help resurrect the political career of former Gov. Charlie Crist, who will likely mount a run for a reconfigured House seat in Pinellas County.
The newly proposed map would also alter the seat held by Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, from one that snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando to a new east-west alignment that stretches the seat to west of Tallahassee. Brown, a long-serving member of Congress, has responded by asking a federal judge to block the Legislature from changing her district.
She argued that the proposal, which was done in order to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, violates federal voting laws and would adversely harm minorities. Forty-five percent of registered voters in the district would be black. Her current district currently consists of 48 percent black registered voters.
“It’s not about me,” Brown said Thursday while announcing the legal challenge. “It’s about the people and making sure they have someone at the table who represents them.”
Correspondent Mike Schneider contributed to this report from Orlando