The Republican-led Florida Senate admitted in a court filing on Tuesday that unnamed senators had violated the state Constitution by gerrymandering some Senate districts – and now they’ll have to be redrawn in a special session later this year.
That session, to be held from Oct. 16 to Nov. 6, will be the third extra session this year. It’s also the second to address redistricting, after the Florida Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that eight of 27 congressional seats violated the state’s constitution. An August special session will be held to re-draw the congressional map.
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Unlike the congressional case, the state Senate conceded to the court that it had violated anti-gerrymandering laws in drawing the Senate map. David King, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the admission by the Legislature is “unprecedented.”
“They admitted they drew unconstitutional maps, as a consequence they have now agreed to fix the problem,” he said on a conference call with reporters.
The surprising admission spares top Republican consultants and legislative leaders–including the current Senate president Andy Gardiner and former president Don Gaetz–from depositions and discovery in the lawsuit, which was filed by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.
“I can tell you as a lawyer, if there is a reasonable way to avoid trial you do so,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano of Bradenton.
The groups specifically alleged in their 2012 lawsuit that 14 of the state’s 40 state Senate seats violated constitutional amendments approved by voters in 2010 that prohibited legislators from intentionally favoring or disfavoring incumbents or political parties in redrawing legislative and congressional districts.
Early court documents and deposition indicate that at least nine maps drawn by outside political consultants were submitted to the redistricting committee through third parties. It was a similar process used by many of the same consultants as the congressional maps were being drawn.
A spokeswoman for Gardiner, Katie Betta, said the admission of potential wrongdoing was “based on new legal standards concerning how to determine legislative intent” included in the Florida Supreme Court ruling invalidating eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts.
Betta said the Senate was trying to make a preemptive move to save taxpayers from another costly special session.
“Additionally, given the Supreme Court’s findings in the Congressional case, it became apparent that the Legislature was unlikely to be successful in its defense of the enacted Senate map,” she said. “In lieu of wasting taxpayer resources on litigation that would ultimately bring us to the same place, the President has chosen to proactively redraw the Senate map in keeping with the Supreme Court’s most recent guidance.”
The House will not redraw its map, indicating how differently the two chambers approached the process.
At the time the maps were being drawn in the Legislature, then-Rep. Will Weatherford and House Speaker Dean Cannon worked to make sure the House maps were conspicuously clean of any partisan influence.
The mood was different in the Senate, where consultants “infiltrated” the process, according to the Supreme Court, and worked with Republican leaders to push the limits of the anti-gerrymandering amendments, according to sources.
“The Senate knew exactly what it was doing,” said one Florida Republican, who had detailed knowledge of the redistricting discussions and spoke to POLITICO on condition of anonymity.
In 2012, the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the Senate maps and upheld the House maps. Then, after the state Senate maps were redrawn, the plaintiffs sued.
Now, House staff and lawyers will sit in a room and draw new maps with their Senate counterparts, and they will all be required to document the process. Any changes will have to be made publicly in committee or on the chambers’ floors.
In their memo on Tuesday, Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli made it clear that the House did not participate in the Senate process.
“The House was not involved in drawing the Senate map, nor did the House amend the Senate map prior to its enactment,” Gardiner and Crisafulli wrote in the memo to legislators. “The House did not intend to favor or disfavor any political party or incumbent, and had no knowledge of any constitutional infirmities relating to the Enacted Senate Plan.”
Original article here.