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Redistricting redux: Florida justices asked to let voters’ challenge continue

by John Kennedy | May 9th, 2013

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Thursday to let a lawsuit proceed in circuit court on whether Republican legislative leaders violated new redistricting standards by sharing critical data and proposed maps with political consultants.

But a lawyer for the state House and Senate said the challenge by voters groups including the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and National Council of  La Raza, should be dismissed.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, representing the Legislature, said the state constitution allows only the Supreme Court to rule on the state’s redistricting plan — and validated the once-a-decade rewrite last year.

Cantero said that allowing the voters’ group challenge to proceed “opens up the possibility for serial redistricting litigation.”

Justice Charles Canady agreed.

“There can be a succession of claims and this can go on and on and on,” Canady warned. “We can be litigation the redistricting plan for the next decade.”

But Justice Barbara Pariente said that the voter-approved Fair District amendments to the constitution, which prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents, have complicated the existing constitutional standards for redistricting.

The “intent” of legislators is a factor courts must consider. That’s not likely possible to determine in the narrow time-frame given the Supreme Court for review of redistricting plans, she said.

“It may be a little messy until we get the law straightened out,” Pariente said.

The voters’ groups want a lower court to determine whether the Senate and congressional maps are invalid, because Republican leaders violated the Fair Districts standards. Court documents in that case filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee. Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.

 

 

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