Closing arguments in landmark trial
TALLAHASSEE | A state judge has the power to decide that Florida’s congressional districts were illegally drawn to favor Republicans — and he should do just that, a coalition of voting-rights organizations argues in written closing arguments.
In arguing that the districts violate a voter-approved Constitutional amendment specifically prohibiting such political favoritism, the plaintiffs fired a volley of salvos following 12 days of testimony in a landmark trial.
“The 2012 congressional plan is exactly what one would expect from a legislature that fought the Fair Districts amendments at every hedgerow, involved partisan operatives in its decision-making, and made key decisions outside of the public eye,” the plaintiffs wrote to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
This is the first time a court has considered a challenge to the state’s congressional map under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by the voters in 2010.
In their closing arguments filed late Friday, attorneys for the Legislature said the political consultants “sought out ways to appear relevant” even though they knew that lawmakers were not going to listen to them.
“But their efforts never merged with the map-drawing efforts of the Legislature, and the political consultants and the other members of the public, whatever their intent, never infected the sterile walls of the redistricting suites. … Those who drew the congressional plan, and those who voted to enact it, were driven by a strict desire to comply with the constitutional requirements and were never influenced by any partisan motivations of outside political consultants,” the brief states.
The plaintiffs’ argument focuses on issues that were central in testimony: where a map filed under the name of a former Florida State student came from, given that the student denies having drawn or submitted the map; whether GOP political consultants were honest when they said they drew maps as an intellectual exercise, not to serve as a guide for the Legislature; and what happened at a December 2010 meeting between consultants and legislative employees involved in redistricting.
“The meeting attendees — and specifically the political operatives — were the council of proverbial foxes summoned to guard and protect the redistricting hen house,” the plaintiffs declared.
Now that the Legislature given its reply argument in writing, the plaintiffs could respond this week.
Following testimony, state House Minority Leader Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, issued a statement calling on Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the redistricting process based on the allegations in the trial. Thurston is running for the Democratic nomination to oppose Bondi, a Republican, in November.
“It is clear that there was unethical, if not outright illegal behavior while the maps were being drawn,” Thurston said. “Pam Bondi should immediately open an investigation into any and all illegality that may have taken place.”