Judge Strikes Down Congressional Map

By: Brandon Larrabee News Service of Florida | Posted: July 11, 2014 3:55 AM
Terry Lewis

Judge Terry Lewis | Credit: daylife.com

In a highly anticipated ruling, a Leon County judge struck down a map of the state's congressional districts drawn by the Legislature in 2012, potentially throwing the political future of the state into turmoil.

But the ruling, issued by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, is virtually certain to be appealed and end up before the Florida Supreme Court, meaning that this year's elections will likely proceed normally.

Legislative leaders were reviewing the ruling late Thursday, according to their offices. But a lawyer for voting-rights groups challenging the map said it was "very satisfying" to see Lewis' opinion and said his side was ready for an appeal.

"We're very optimistic that the Supreme Court will uphold the ruling," attorney David King said.

The order, issued late Thursday, is the first to address the state's congressional map under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010. The Supreme Court already invalidated the Legislature's first draft of a state Senate plan, which was then redrawn before the 2012 elections.

Lewis' ruling specifically takes aim at the districts represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Republican Congressman Daniel Webster. Brown's district, which winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando, has been criticized for years as one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in the nation.

It isn't clear when lawmakers might have to redraw the districts, especially given the likelihood of an appeal. Lewis' ruling doesn't set a deadline, and candidates have already qualified for the 2014 elections under the boundaries approved by the Legislature.

But if the lines are redrawn after appeals play out, any changes to the Webster and Brown districts are likely to ripple through the rest of the map, given that all congressional districts have to have equal populations. Moving voters into or out of the two districts thrown out by Lewis would have a domino effect on surrounding seats.

According to Lewis, lawmakers and the staff members charged with the once-a-decade redistricting process tried to shield the map drawers from political influence, even as Republican political consultants tried to find a way to manipulate the process.

"That being said, the circumstantial evidence introduced at trial convinces me that the political operatives managed to find other avenues, other ways to infiltrate and influence the Legislature, to obtain the necessary cooperation and collaboration to ensure that their plan was realized, at least in part," Lewis wrote. "They managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent. There is just too much circumstantial evidence of it, too many coincidences, for me to conclude otherwise."

Lewis also found fault with explanations offered by the Legislature for some of the damning evidence at the trial. For example, one key email featured Kirk Pepper, an aide to then-House Speaker Dean Cannon, asking a political consultant whether some unstated issues with Webster's Orlando-area district related to "performance or geography."

The state had argued that Pepper was being sarcastic.

"Mr. Pepper testified that, though it may seem that they were discussing political performance, his reply to his friend was actually a signal reminding him that they should not discuss such things. Perhaps, but that is a very unusual and illogical interpretation," Lewis wrote.

Much of the district-specific testimony at the trial focused on Brown's seat, which was originally created in the 1990s to provide African-Americans with the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. Legislative leaders and staff members argued at trial that increasing the district's black voting-age population, or BVAP, to more than 50 percent would shield it from a challenge under the federal Voting Rights Act.

But voting-rights organizations opposed to the map, like the League of Women Voters, countered that the district was really meant to carve out enclaves of Democratic-leaning voters and make surrounding districts more friendly to the GOP. Lewis largely agreed.

"I also find that the decision to increase the district to majority BVAP, which was accomplished in large part by creating the finger-like appendage jutting into District 7 and Seminole County, was done with the intent of benefiting the Republican Party," he wrote.

As for Webster's district, Lewis rejected an argument from the state that lawmakers included an "appendage" of white voters in the plan as part of their efforts to create a Central Florida district where Latinos could influence the outcome of elections.

"There was no evidence to suggest that a Hispanic majority district could be created in Central Florida. Defendants cannot justify deviation from a ... constitutional requirement because of a desire to create a Hispanic influence district," Lewis wrote.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (7)

9:15AM JUL 13TH 2014
Is there a bush that didnt screew us?
Is the Jeb Bush influence fading?
12:09PM JUL 11TH 2014
Jeb Bush and his Aggressive-conservatism- Government Reform
Judges should respect primacy of Legislature & Executive

Governor Bush’s effort to improve his influence over the appointment of Florida judges was driven by what he wanted the people to perceive as his attack on an improper, liberal judicial philosophy. But there was also ongoing hostility among Florida Republicans about the role they played by the judiciary in the American system of checks and balances. Bush and other Republicans regularly lamented the fact that public policy was made not only in the executive and legislative branches, but also in the judicial branch of government.
Bush personally distanced himself from the position held by generations of constitutional authorities that the three branches of government were co-equals. Bush pushed his position so intensely that the president of the Florida Bar questioned whether he believed in the separation of powers doctrine. Pursuing his own version of this doctrine, Bush promised to appoint judges who would respect "the primacy of the legislative and the executive as policymakers."
Now think about that! Did Jeb Bush and Barack Obama receive the same training? They have the same ideology [a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy] on many issues like Common Core. And Obama’s actions prove his tendency to support "the primacy the executive branch and to hell with the legislative and judicial branches as the policymakers."
Asked judicial candidates: Are you a God-fearing churchgoer?
When filling judicial position, then Governor Bush was criticized for using criteria unrelated to fitness to serve on the bench as standards for appointment.
Several judicial candidates complained to a Miami newspaper that they had been subjected to a series of inappropriate questions by one of these commissions, including whether they were active in their church, whether they thought they were "God-fearing people," how they felt about the US Supreme Court `s 2003 ruling to strike down a Texas law criminalizing homosexual activity, and how they would feel about having the Ten Commandments posted in their courtrooms. One candidate, an assistant county attorney, was also asked whether she "would be able to balance her duties as a single mother of twins with her duties as a judge."
Decades later it is easy to see these questions were based 180 degree’s from the obvious goals of determining where these judicial prospects stood on various issues. Much like when Jeb Bush manipulated Charlie Crist into the position of Attorney General of Florida – their main goal at the time was for Crist to be in a position to protect their friend and money man Mel Sembler from prosecution regarding his houses of child sexual perversion and abuses and their push for homosexual’s to be placed in important government positions! [See the Franklin Scandal]
2:57PM JUL 11TH 2014
I see a SSN say-a-lot-of-nothing influence here . . . . funny how and where these "massive" irrelevant Bush-Obama linked comments keep suddenly appearing . . . . . and when . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
9:45AM JUL 11TH 2014
To paraphrase a Nancy Smith truthiness claim: "Ain't no voter disenfranchisement in Florida" . . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
9:36AM JUL 11TH 2014
Correct. It makes them zero for twelve because the courts are run by liberal activists who hate Republicans and go out of their way in predictable rulings to overturn everything. We need a court purge the way Mississippi did a few years back.
9:44AM JUL 11TH 2014
Oh yes, you must be right . . . . extreme right . . . . everyone's against you, they're all out biased against the Grand Old Party and Tea Baggers . . . . . purge them all . . . . . THERE, done with your paranoia and delusions now? . . . . or do you need a little medical assistance for that conspiracy condition . . . . . you know, that's now covered under the Affordable Care Act . . . . . FoxNoise type fringe politics of the "Big Lie" . . . .

Pathetic . . . . .
7:43AM JUL 11TH 2014
Doesn't this make the Republican legislature and Governor Scott zero for twelve on Constitutional issues whether the Florida Constitution or the United States Constitrution?
Vote em out of office and keep em out of office.

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