Cannon: House to appeal Amendment 6 rulingby John Kennedy | September 29th, 2011
The state House plans to join a pair of Florida members of Congress in appealing a federal judge’s ruling that upheld a new, voter-approved standard for lawmakers when they draw congressional and legislative boundaries next year, House Speaker Dean Cannon said Thursday.
The move extends a battle between the Republican-ruled Legislature and the Democratic-allied Fair Districts campaign, which spearheaded the effort leading to voter approval of Florida constitutional amendments 5 and 6 last fall. Cannon, R-Winter Park, and U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, argue that Amendment 6 violates the U.S. Constitution by attempting to make state law apply to a federal matter.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro rejected the lawsuit earlier this month. But Cannon said Thursday that Ungaro is wrong.
He drew on a federal court’s two-decade old ruling that in Florida, voter-approved term limits could not apply to members of Congress, in making the case for appeal.
“The federal court said, ‘no it doesn’t apply to congressional seats because Article 1, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution says only Congress and the federal constitution can prescribe limits like that,” Cannon said. “And we think the exact same argument applies here.”
The Legislature must draw new districts in time for the 2012 elections to reflect 2010 census data. The process in Florida and other states has historically been dominated by partisanship and political considerations. But Amendments 5 and 6 state that districts cannot be drawn to favor incumbents or political parties and must be compact and adhere to existing city, county and geographical boundaries “where feasible.”
The amendment also states that districts must not deny minorities the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Fair Districts and its supporters have called on Cannon to end the legal attack on the amendment — approved by 63 percent of voters. But Cannon said the thousands of dollars in taxpayer money spent challenging the measure is needed.
“This lawsuit is not about any specific map, or even this specific year,” Cannon said. “It’s about defining the responsibility of our state Legislature under the federal constitution.”
But Dan Gelber, a former Democratic legislator who now represents Fair Districts, said “it is offensive to spend taxpayer money to fight your own constituents.” He noted that Florida taxpayers are paying for legal costs on both sides — for the Secretary of State to defend the new state standards, and for the House seeking to overturn it.
“It shows are desperate the Republican-ruled Legislature is to retain their ability to draw district lines the way they want,” Gelber said.
Cannon, though, assured that lawmakers will abide by the Amendment 5 and 6 standards when they begin line-drawing as early as next month. Cannon acknowledged that it could prove months before a ruling emerges from 11th U.S. District Court of Appeals.