Redistricting foes clash in Supreme Court briefs

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Supporters and opponents of the state’s new legislative districts took their battle to court Friday, filing a series of briefs with the Florida Supreme Court spelling out the cases for and against the House and Senate maps, reports Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida.

In all, seven briefs totaling more than 300 pages were filed with the court for its initial review of the redistricting measure (SJR 1176) under the state’s new, anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts standards. Attorney General Pam Bondi, the House, the Senate, a coalition of voting-rights groups, the Florida Democratic Party, the city of Lakeland and the state’s supervisors of elections all submitted filings with the court before Friday’s deadline.

In many cases — aside from the supervisors, who simply asked the court to be mindful of elections deadlines — the briefs seem to come from different worlds.

In the views of supporters, the maps scrupulously follow the Fair Districts amendments, which were approved by 63 percent of voters in a 2010 referendum. Opponents blasted the legislation as more of the same partisan redistricting scams that have plagued Florida for years.

“The House of Representatives assiduously followed the law,” said the brief filed by the House. “Its compliance with all governing standards disproves any notion that the House Map was drawn with any intent to favor or disfavor political parties or incumbents.”

Opponents trained much of their fire on the Senate map, which they argued was an extreme example of a gerrymandered map meant to slant the state’s political playing field in the direction of Republicans and protect sitting senators from both parties.

“The entire process in the Senate was built around accommodating incumbents,” wrote attorneys for a coalition of voting-rights groups that includes the League of Women Voters, Common Cause Florida and the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group. “At the very start of the redistricting process, incumbent Senators were interviewed by staff and asked what would be advantageous in ‘their’ districts.”

But the entire process is suspect, those against the maps said, because Republicans would win more seats under the redistricting proposals than their share of voter registration or ballots in statewide elections would suggest they should.

“The Legislature can hardly claim that such a drastic partisan imbalance was unintentional or was necessary in order to serve other constitutional principles,” according to the Democratic Party brief.

In its own filing, the House noted that lawmakers were supposed to avoid intentionally favoring or disfavoring any party — even to make the results fit voting patterns.

“Any suggestion that the House had an obligation to draw a map with ‘partisan balance’ is manifestly wrong,” attorneys wrote. “In fact, the House would have violated these same constitutional standards had it made such an effort.”

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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.