The Florida Supreme Court dealt a blow to the Florida Legislature Thursday, overturning current congressional districts and demanding the state draw up a new map before the 2016 elections.
The justices ruled 5-2 to overturn the districts which were mapped out by the Republican-led Legislature.
Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.
Under a 2010 "Fair Districts" voter-approved constitutional amendment, districts are not allowed to be drawn to favor a specific political party.
Thursday's ruling means eight of the state's 27 congressional districts will have to be redrawn, as well as any districts bordering them.
That could have heavy implications for the state's political landscape, possibly putting incumbents' seats in jeopardy as they struggle to cope with the newly-drawn districts.
Opponents of the Senate maps and plaintiffs to the case, which included the League of Women Voters, were highly critical of the process, accusing Republican political consultants of having sticky fingers on the congressional maps.
They contended the operatives were secretive in their doings, attempting to influence the process all while maintaining the air of non-involvement.
The Florida Supreme Court agreed the maps were "tainted" by "unconstitutional intent" to favor the Republican Party and their incumbents.
The court also ruled, however, to reverse the trial court’s order to approve the Legislature's revised redistricting plan.
The Supreme Court concluded that legal errors caused the trial court to fail to "give the proper effect to its finding of unconstitutional intent, which mandated a more meaningful remedy commensurate with the constitutional violations it found.''
The Supreme Court will relinquish the case to trial court for 100 days to require the Legislature to redraw the districts on an expedited basis.
"We emphasize the time-sensitive nature of these proceedings, with candidate-qualifying for the 2016 congressional elections now less than a year away, and make clear that we take seriously our obligation to provide certainty to candidates and voters regarding the legality of the state’s congressional districts," wrote Justice Barbara Pariente.
After the districts are redrawn, the lower court will hold a hearing where both sides will present their arguments and evidence for or against the newly-redrawn maps. The trial court will then approve or disapprove the redrawn map.
Several Democrats and Republicans will be affected by the ruling, including Republican U.S. Reps. David Jolly and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Democrat U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel's districts would also be affected.
Brown issued a statement shortly after the ruling, calling the decision "seriously flawed."
"I firmly believe that I, as an African American legislator, can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a profound level since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle many of the same challenges and prejudices that they have," said Brown.
“District 5 in Florida, and minority access districts across the nation cannot, will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought gains we have made during the last 50 years," she continued. "As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.”
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.
Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen