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Florida Supreme Court: Redistricting Map Violates Florida Constitution

In League of Women Voters v. Detzner, No. SC14-1905, 2015 WL 4130852 (Fla. July 9, 2015), plaintiffs challenged the Florida legislature’s 2012 congressional redistricting plan, alleging that it violated the Florida Constitution. Specifically, in 2010, the Florida Constitution was amended by the Fair Districts Amendment (“FDA”), which prohibited the Florida legislature from drawing a redistricting plan or individual district with the “intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” According to plaintiffs, the legislature “cooperated and collaborated with partisan political operatives aligned with the Republican Party to produce a redistricting plan that was drawn in contravention of [the FDA], with the intent to favor incumbents and the Republican Party, which was the controlling political party in the Legislature at the time of the 2012 redistricting.” The trial court found in favor of plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court, but found that the trial court erred in determining that there was no distinction between a challenge to the redistricting plan as a whole and a challenge to individual districts, and that the trial court erred in applying a deferential standard of review to the decisions of the legislature after finding a violation of the FDA.

As noted by the Florida Supreme Court, under the FDA, “there is no acceptable level of improper intent,” and any finding of partisan intent renders a redistricting plan invalid under Florida law. The court found that “competent, substantial evidence supports the trial court’s finding” of unconstitutional partisan intent, “and that this finding pertains to the plan as a whole and not solely to the two invalidated districts.” The evidence included destroyed emails relating to redistricting when the legislature knew that litigation was certain to occur, non-public meetings with political consultants in which key districting decisions were made, and an expert driven map drawing process to favor Republicans that “evidenced a conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into violation of its constitutional duty.” According to the court, “none of this evidence relied on by the trial court was district specific,” and therefore the court concluded that it was error for the trial court not to consider a challenge to the plan as a whole.

Although the court rejected the plaintiffs’ request that the entire plan be redrawn, the court did set forth the following guidelines meant to hold the legislature accountable in the future:

  1. The court encouraged the legislature conduct all meetings in which it makes decisions on the new map public and to record any non-public meetings for preservation.
  2. The court encouraged the legislature to provide a mechanism for people to submit alternative maps and for citizen feedback.
  3. The court encouraged the legislature to preserve all emails and documents relating to the redrawing of the map.
  4. The court encouraged the legislature to publically document the justifications for its new district lines.

Potential Impact

The Supreme Court decision ordered eight congressional districts to be redrawn. These new eight districts (out of a total of twenty seven) will impact significantly all the state’s congressional districts. Forcing a redraw prior to the 2016 primary and general elections will place a lot of pressure on the Florida legislature to act quickly and to draw a congressional map not “tainted by the unconstitutional intent used to favor the Republican Party and incumbents.

By requiring all the documentation, clearly the court wants to see how the proverbial “sausage is made.” Whether the legislature describes all the ingredients and how they are mixed will be worth the price of admission. Further, determining whether the new congressional plan is “devoid of partisan intent” always will be a muddy issue. So stay tuned and watch the fun over the next one hundred days in Florida!

Read the full opinion here.