The Florida Supreme Court told a state trial court to head back to square one with congressional redistricting, according to an order filed Friday. As part of the court order, the trial court will be able to look at both the House and Senate’s map proposals. Trial court Judge Terry Lewis will hold a hearing on "remedial plans" to see which one best meets the directions of the court. The trial court must make a decision on the map by Oct. 17.
The court also rejected the House’s request to extend the 100-day timeframe to come up with a new set of maps, but did say lawmakers could enact a “remedial plan” for the maps.
Despite rejecting some of the House’s requests, the court did leave the possibility of another special session on the table. This was a specific request from the Senate, which tried to extend the special session on redistricting when it realized the two chambers weren’t going to reach an agreement before the session’s end.
The justices acknowledged that the responsibility of making new maps primarily fell on state lawmakers, who failed to reach an agreement on the maps in August. Initially, the session seemed to show promise but negotiations between the two chambers collapsed at the eleventh hour when the House said “no” to a Senate proposal which included an amendment put forth by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
After state lawmakers packed up their bags and went home, Senate Redistricting Chair Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, offered a “compromise map” which House Redistricting Chair Rep. Jose Oliva said would have been given “serious consideration” had it been put forth while legislators were still at the Capitol.
“We remain mindful that the task of congressional redistricting under our current constitutional structure falls first and foremost upon the Legislature,” wrote Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in the ruling. “That is precisely why this Court remanded the case to the circuit court for further proceedings in which the Legislature was given the opportunity to correct the map’s constitutional deficiencies.”
If the Legislature can’t reach some kind of agreement on a set of maps, then it will be up to the judiciary branch to redraw the maps “to provide certainty to candidates and voters.”
Justice Labarga also said he believed the Legislature had enough time to hammer out a set of maps before redistricting would be taken to a trial court, and advised against a provisional set of maps.
“An orderly and foreseeable constitutional end point must be reached in this process,” he wrote. “Anything less makes a mockery of the will of the voters who passed the Fair Districts amendment.”
Justices R. Fred Lewis and Charles Canady concurred in part of the ruling and dissented in another.
“I dissent, however, from the denial of the House’s request for an extension of the relinquishment period and for authorization of discovery relative to any proposed remedial plans,” wrote Canady. “I would decline to address the House’s suggestion that any redistricting plan adopted by the Court should expressly be an interim or provisional plan that will remain in place only until superseded by subsequent legislation.”
Justice Lewis said he thought it was “improper” for the Supreme Court to prejudge what might happen and rule in advance on what “may or may not be precluded.”
The House and Senate had not determined if or when they would return to Tallahassee to continue their work on the maps, but Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has already floated the idea of holding a meeting between the House and Senate redistricting chairs to discuss the Senate’s compromise map.
"As we have expressed since the conclusion of the special session, the Senate is willing to reconvene to fulfill our constitutional obligation," Gardiner said.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, did not say for sure that the House would come back for a special session, but indicated his chamber would look over Friday's decision thoroughly.
Today the court provided a measure of certainty for how we may go forward to adopt a constitutional congressional map, as the voters expect from us," he said. "We look forward to further reviewing the order to determine our next steps.”