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Politics

U.S. Reps Sue to Block Redistricting Amendment

May 24, 2010 - 6:00pm

U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart have filed a lawsuit seeking to block a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at overhauling how congressional boundaries are drawn.

Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, earlier this year testified before legislative committees against the FairDistricts proposal, Amendment 6 on the November ballot. The lawsuit, filed late Monday in Leon County Circuit Court, echoes the lawmakers testimony that the measure misleads voters and could hurt minority representation in Congress.

Amendment 6 is riddled with inconsistencies and, if passed, would set unworkable standards in drawing districts, said Diaz-Balart, a four-term congressman who served 14 years in the Legislature.

The lawsuit is the latest swipe in what has emerged as a steady barrage of exchanges between the states political parties and allied organizations divided over the Legislatures 2012 redrawing of district lines for legislative and congressional seats. Redistricting is likely to shape partisan political fortunes across Florida for the decade ahead.

Two FairDistricts ballot measures are set to go before voters with Amendment 5 addressing legislative redistricting, but not directly touched by the lawsuit. The two proposals are intended to guide redistricting by requiring that new voting districts be compact, contiguous and respect city and county boundaries when possible.

Line-drawing would be prohibited that was designed to favor incumbent politicians or political parties. The FairDistricts ballot language was approved for the ballot by the Florida Supreme Court and organizers earlier this year completed collecting the necessary 676,811 voter signatures for each measure.

By reducing incumbent protection and demanding compact districts, the proposed standards could help Democrats wrest control of the Legislature and congressional delegation from Republicans, whose path to power in Florida was cleared by redistricting rounds in 1992 and 2002. FairDistricts was backed heavily by Democratic-allied groups, including the Florida Education Association and Service Employees International Union.

During the legislative session ended in April, Republican leaders made claims similar to those raised by the congressional members. Lawmakers split mostly on partisan lines in topping FairDistricts Amendments 5 and 6 with an Amendment 7 that allows lawmakers to maintain communities of interest when they draw new political boundaries.

Democrats, however, say that if that standard is added, it could result in a disproportionate number of mostly Democratic-leaning, black voters pushed into a handful of districts, reducing party voting strength in surrounding districts.

The Florida NAACP, Florida League of Women Voters and Democracia Ahora last week filed a lawsuit seeking to have Amendment 7 knocked off the ballot. Like the Diaz-Balart-Brown lawsuit, that legal challenge also is in Leon County Circuit Court.

Ellen Freidin, FairDistricts chairwoman, said the lawsuit by the congressional members was aimed at playing games.

They clearly havent read the language of our amendments, Freidin said. We specifically have addressed their concerns.

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