U.S. Supreme Court asked to block evidence in redistricting trial

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A bitter legal feud over Florida’s political landscape has now made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

An emergency petition was filed Wednesday with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that asked him to stop a Florida judge from hearing evidence obtained from a Republican political consulting firm.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled this week that up to 538 pages of evidence could be used by groups suing the Legislature over new political maps. But the court also said that the evidence — which includes emails and maps — must not be disclosed in open court.

The groups suing legislators plan to present the evidence Thursday. But lawyers representing Gainesville-based Data Targeting and its employees asked Thomas for an emergency stay on Wednesday. Thomas handles emergency applications from Florida.

“An emergency stay is necessary to prevent disclosure of this privileged information (and its entry into evidence) during the ongoing trial in the underlying case, to keep the proverbial cat in the bag, and to preserve the Applicants’ ability to later petition this court,” states the petition written by Tallahassee attorney D. Kent Safriet.

Data Targeting’s lawyers, who are being paid by the Republican Party of Florida, maintain that disclosing the information would violate First Amendment speech rights as well as reveal trade secrets. The court filing also argues the information is irrelevant to determining whether the Legislature violated new standards adopted by voters in 2010.

Gov. Rick Scott as well as legislative leaders are responsible for raising money used to pay Republican Party of Florida expenses. A spokeswoman for the party, citing the ongoing trial, declined to comment on why the party was paying the lawyers seeking to keep the evidence confidential.

Florida legislators draw new districts every 10 years based on new census data. The groups suing the Legislature, which include the League of Women Voters, contend that legislators violated the “Fair Districts” constitutional amendments which said districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party.

Attorneys for the groups have argued that legislators used a “shadow” process that relied on political consultants in an effort to bypass the constitutional amendment.

Evidence so far has shown that one GOP consultant received maps before they were made public. A Republican Party official testified Friday that congressional maps he drew and turned over to a GOP consultant were identical to those submitted to the Legislature by a member of the public.

The trial has also featured past and current legislative leaders denying any wrongdoing.Former House Speaker Dean Cannon testified on Wednesday and said that he did not know that one of his top aides had given maps to a consultant. Cannon said when he found out he told the aide that it was a “dumb” decision.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had initially ruled to allow the documents obtained from Data Targeting to be used at the trial, but his decision was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeal. The Florida Supreme Court, however, called the redistricting trial unique and said it’s important to let evidence to be considered.