Senate redistricting plan rejected by court; House proposal OK’dby John Kennedy | March 9th, 2012
The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the Legislature’s plan for redrawing Senate districts was unconstitutional — a decision that will bring lawmakers back into a special redistricting session later this month.
Justices upheld the House maps. But the Senate plan was ruled lacking in the way senators drew minority districts and relied on “communities of interest,” in its determination of compactness, required under the constitutional amendments 5 and 6.
“We recognize that the Senate did not have the benefit of our opinion when drawing its plan. However, it is clear from a facial review of the Senate plan that the pick and choose method for existing boundaries was not balanced,” Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the majority.
The court unanimously endorsed the House plan but rejected the Senate’s in a 5-2 decision. Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston said they thought the majority overreached in ruling the Senate plan was flawed.
The court also didn’t accept how senators had districts renumbered to affect which two-year election cycle they fall in; this would insure that most incumbents could serve as many as 10 years in the chamber, a provision also seized on by justices. Senators are normally limited to two four-year terms.
“Adopting a renumbering system that significantly advantages incumbents by increasing the length of time that they may serve by two years most assuredly favors incumbents,” justices wrote. “Further, purposefully manipulating the numbering of the districts in order to allow incumbents to serve in excess of eight years would also appear to frustrate the intent of the voters when the term limits amendment was adopted.”
House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced to the full House Thursday morning that the maps drawn by House members was accepted by the court. That drew a lengthy, standing ovation from representatives.
House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, later added the caveat about the Senate plan, telling lawmakers they would be returning soon for a special session.
The Florida Democratic Party, which challenged the maps as drawn to assure continued Republican dominance, praised the justices’ ruling — although they rejected many of the party’s arguments.
“Today’s ruling is a victory for the people of Florida.” said Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith. “This ruling confirms what we had anticipated, that the Senate map violated Fair Districts. We applaud the court for stepping in to implement the will of the voters of Florida. We look forward to getting down to the business of drawing maps that comply with the expectations of the people, as expressed in these constitutional amendments.”