Tinkering with districts of two members of Congress did not cleanse a “tainted” process that Republican legislative leaders used to tilt the political playing field, two lawyers told the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday. David King, representing the League of Women Voters of Florida, and John Devaney, arguing for a group of voters opposed to the revised plan, said House and Senate leaders made a mockery of the state Constitution’s “Fair Districts Florida” mandate. That pair of 2010 constitutional amendments forbade any consideration of incumbency, party membership or other partisan factors in drawing congressional and legislative district lines. The plaintiffs favor a vastly different plan that would split Leon County and create a minority-access district running from Chattahoochee to Jacksonville. The current congressional map has a district represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D Jacksonville, running from her hometown to the Orlando area. After Circuit Judge Terry Lewis threw out the 2012 districting plan, legislators held a brief special session last year to adjust Brown’s district and the Orlando-area tract of Rep. Daniel Webster, R Winter Park. Ripple effects from those changes affected about 400,000 voters in seven districts – but the 17-10 Republican advantage in the state’s congressional district was unchanged last November.
“This trial court found that political operatives conspired together to influence the maps,” King told the seven justices. “They made a mockery of the political process through a shadow process.”
In a two-week trial last year, Lewis heard testimony about unannounced leadership meetings, disappearing e-mail messages, maps being shown to lobbyists and political consultants long before they were made public, and amended maps materializing mysteriously late in the process. After Lewis scorched the GOP leadership for evading the “Fair Districts” amendments, the Legislature fixed the Brown and Webster districts and Lewis approved the new map. The plaintiffs asked the high court for yet another do-over, saying the Republicans still crammed as many Democrats as possible into as few districts as they could. From the Panhandle to Tampa Bay and Homestead, they said, the GOP redrew the lines with an eye toward electing and re-electing Republicans.
“The entire map should be declared unlawful because the entire process was unlawful,” Devaney told the justices. “There was a shadowy decision process. Consultants were secretly given mapsby staff.” Allison Riggs, an attorney from the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham, N.C., defended the north-south configuration of Brown’s district. She said stringing a district 204 miles along the northern tier of counties would put black voters at a disadvantage.
“Black voters in this region have a shared history and are politically cohesive,” Riggs, representing the state NAACP branches, said of the north-south configuration of the Fifth District. She said the east-west configuration proposed by the plaintiffs “has numerous fatal flaws.”
Original article here.