Changes to a proposed map of Florida’s 27 congressional districts emerged this week, a day before key hearings in the House and Senate about how to comply with a court order finding the current map violates the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” requirements.
Meanwhile, Rep. Corrine Brown, whose district has been targeted to be radically redrawn, made good on her threat to file a federal lawsuit trying to complicate the process.
At least three amendments have been filed to the proposed map – two of them in the House and one in the Senate.
Both panels will take up the same “base map” developed by staff to start discussions about the districts. Senate leaders have indicated that more than one hearing could be held if necessary.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, filed a map that would reunite Sarasota County into a district with the coastal parts of Manatee County.
Under the base map, Sarasota would be split between two districts, with the northern part of the county being combined with Manatee and parts of Hillsborough County and the southern part going into a largely agricultural district centered in the state’s interior.
Detert argues that splitting Sarasota County is not necessary to comply with a July 9 opinion from the Florida Supreme Court striking down eight congressional districts. The court said those districts, drawn in 2012, did not comply with a voter-approved “Fair Districts” constitutional amendment aimed at preventing gerrymandering.
An amendment filed in the House by Rep. Dave Kerner, D-Lake Worth, would continue to allow the districts of Congressman Ted Deutch and Congresswoman Lois Frankel — both Democrats — to run from north to south. The court asked lawmakers to redraw the districts, but said the Legislature didn’t necessarily have to use a “stacked” formation — with one district taking up most of the northern territory and another to the south.
Another House member filed an amendment that would go back to the initial map developed during the once-a-decade reapportionment process in 2012. That map has already been found unconstitutional by the courts, but Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, said the Supreme Court had overstepped its bounds and the original pan should stand.
“I believe that map was as valid as any because of (lawmakers’) good-faith effort to put forward a map that would accurately reflect the change in our population,” he told The News Service of Florida.
Hill said that while lawmakers can consider changing maps that courts object to, justices went too far and tried to essentially draw the districts with the July ruling.
“The Supreme Court does not have that authority. That authority rests solely with the Legislature,” Hill said.
As lawmakers geared up for the Thursday meetings, Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in Tallahassee to bar the state from using “any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African-Americans.”
Brown has furiously fought the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that her district should no longer run from Jacksonville in the north to Orlando in the south and should instead have an east-west orientation.
“The drawing and redrawing of Congresswoman Brown’s district, as required by the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion, carries with it the very real and imminent possibility of Congresswoman Brown’s constituents being deprived of the ability to elect a representative of their choice,” the lawsuit said.
“I filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking relief against the continued use of any congressional redistricting plan that dilutes the voting strength of African Americans,” said Congresswoman Brown. As I have said before, “District 5 in Florida and minority access districts across the nation cannot, and will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought civil rights gains we have made during the last 50 years. As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.”
Lawmakers began a special session Monday to deal with the congressional map, one of two such sessions they will hold this year.