The Florida Supreme Court made a groundbreaking decision to order the redrawing of several congressional districts on Thursday, but not all of the Justices were onboard with the split ruling.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Charles Canady took serious aim at the majority opinion in the case, brought all the way to the Florida Supreme Court by several left leaning coalitions including the Florida League of Women Voters.
But the court's dissenters said the majority overstepped their boundaries as justices, meddling in legislative processes by supplanting lawmakers' roles in drawing legislative districts.
“The proper functioning of the judicial process is deformed and the separation of powers is breached in an unprecedented manner," wrote Canady, who was joined in his dissent by Justice Ricky Polston. "Since 2012, this court’s decisions concerning the redistricting process have been characterized by a repeated rewriting of the rules.”
Canady blasted the majority for creating an "improper legislative intent" when the lower trial court judge, Terry Lewis, had only found factual basis for improper intent in two districts.
“In fact, however, the final judgment ... contains no finding whatsoever that the Legislature acted with improper intent regarding the entire congressional plan or that the “whole plan” challenge had been proven," read the dissent. "The majority fails to identify any such finding in the final judgment.”
Canady and Polston also took issue with the majority’s order to replace the circuit court-approved boundaries of Jacksonville-based CD 5 with another east-west version created by National Democratic Redistricting Trust in cooperation with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"There is something dreadfully wrong with this picture," wrote Canady.
Traditionally, appeals courts are supposed to review lower courts' opinions if they find issues with a judge's ruling on facts, remanding them back to the lower court.
But the dissenting justices say in this case, the Florida Supreme Court seemed to disregard judicial precedent and instead set out on their own fact-finding mission.
"By imposing its own judgment about the factual inferences to be drawn from the evidence at trial, the majority has transgressed the boundaries of proper appellate review and invaded the province of the trier of fact," read Canady's dissent.
Canady accused the majority of cobbling together bits and pieces of evidence to fit their narrative of how the congressional mapmaking process took place.
Thursday's ruling -- and Canady's biting dissent -- highlights a sharp divide between the conservative and liberal justices.
Three of the justices of Thursday's majority ordering the redrawing of the legislative maps (Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince) have a history of controversial rulings in elections cases.
The three also voted for a statewide manual recount of votes in the highly publicized 2000 presidential election of George W. Bush vs. Al Gore.
The recount was perhaps the most controversial -- and most newsmaking -- story of any presidential election.
But even so, the Florida Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling for a recount in Gore v. Harris was stayed by the higher U.S. Supreme Court, with Justice Antonin Scalia stamping a big "no" on their ruling, writing the recount would "cast a cloud" upon what Bush claimed to be the legitimacy of the 2000 election.
All three justices were appointed by former Democratic Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles and each faces mandatory retirement in 2019.
Justice James E.C. Perry, who rounds out what many Republicans call the "liberal wing" of the Florida Supreme Court, will be forced to end his current term in January 2017, which means Gov. Rick Scott will have full power in selecting a more conservative figure to take his place.
Despite the air of finality for some who have seen Thursday's ruling as a long time coming, the implications of the Florida Supreme Court's rulings won't be taken lightly. U.S. Rep Corrine Brown, D-Fla., will likely sue over the matter since her district would be significantly impacted by the redrawing. The remapping would have implications for U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and other members of Florida’s congressional delegation. Further ripple effects could also be felt all the way to makeup of the Florida State Senate as the 2016 elections loom.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen