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Politics

FairDistricts Amendments Now Before Court

July 8, 2010 - 6:00pm

Hours after a judge threw out a legislatively-proposed constitutional amendment dealing with the rules for drawing political boundaries, backers of two other ballot questions seeking to change the way redistricting is done were in court defending theirs.

The two remaining proposals still slated, as of now, to be decided by voters in November, seek to keep lawmakers from trying to protect incumbents or political parties when they take on the once-a-decade task of redrawing Senate, House and congressional boundary lines.

Those two amendments, Amendments 5 and 6, sponsored by a group called FairDistricts.org, are being challenged by two members of Congress and by the Legislature, which says that the proposals are likely to run afoul of federal protections for minority voters, a claim vehemently denied by backers of the two amendments.

Supporters of the 5 and 6, which were put on the ballot through petition, argued they should go before voters just a few hours after a separate judge threw out a competing ballot measure that lawmakers voted to put before voters, though that question will be the subject of an appeal.

Attorneys for the Legislature, losers in their effort to protect their proposed amendment in court earlier in the day, were back later Thursday before a different judge, arguing that the other two amendments also should come off . They argued that the Supreme Courts OK of the amendments for the ballot which must precede any citizen-backed initiative going to the voters was merely advisory and didnt take into account any factual arguments over what the amendment might do.

But the Florida Department of State, joined by FairDistricts.org and former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who intervened in the case, argued that there has never been a case where a circuit court has overruled the Supreme Court's consent to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Michael Tanner, a lawyer for the Department of State, said that the Supreme Court's advisory opinion process would essentially be rendered meaningless if the case against Amendments 5 and 6 was allowed to continue. The Constitution's writers established a unique structure to place citizen initiatives before the voters.

One cannot achieve this goal and allow a case like this to go forward, he said.

Circuit Court Judge Jackie Fulford, who heard the arguments, said she could issue an opinion on whether to dismiss the case as early as Friday. However, the Supreme Court will likely be the final arbiter in the dispute over both redistricting proposals.

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos who spearheaded the legislative efforts to write Amendment 7, counter proposal to Amendments 5 and 6, released a statement urging that 5 and 6 be removed from the November ballot just as Amendment 7 was earlier in the day.

"Even with seven months of attempts, sponsors of Amendments 5 and 6 failed to explain the workable application of their amendments or how (they) would protect minority representation, he said.

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