The Florida Times-Union plans to join other media organizations requesting the Florida Supreme Court unseal evidence heard in a closed-door court session that preceded a Leon County’s decision to declare Florida voting maps illegally drawn.
The July 8 decision by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis was the first to address the state’s congressional map under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010. The Supreme Court already invalidated the Legislature’s first draft of a state Senate plan, which was then redrawn before the 2012 elections.
Lewis’ ruling focuses on the districts represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown and Republican Congressman Daniel Webster. Brown’s district, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando, was called the “most gerrymandered in the country” by her own party.
Lewis heard testimony in private from Gainesville-based consultant Data Targeting, whose efforts to block the disclosure of the evidence fell short when the state Supreme Court ruled it could be considered in a closed court session.
Media organizations led by the Associated Press are coordinating efforts to file what’s known as an an amicus brief in the Supreme Court, citing the main issue as whether the documents are privileged under the First Amendment’s right of association.
The key argument: regardless of whether the Court finds the documents to be privileged, they should be unsealed because they were used as evidence at trial and the court cited them in its decision as the basis for finding a “conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into a violation of its constitutional duty.”
The brief is expected to be filed by the end of the month.
Times-Union Editor Frank Denton said transparency is critical to ensuring the public understand what led to Lewis’s ruling.
“Those records apparently are a key to the court deliberations and ruling on a case that is extremely important to congressional elections in Florida and, therefore, to the people of Florida,” Denton said. “We feel strongly that the people should be able to see and consider everything that goes into such an important decision.”