By George E. Curry
After the Florida Republican-dominated state legislature failed to redraw Rep. Corrine Brown’s congressional district and seven others that had been gerrymandered to favor Republicans, a three-judge federal panel was named this week to do the job for them. Brown, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, was elated by the decision. “This is where we need to be,” she said in a telephone interview with the NNPA News Service. “The new district goes through 18 prisons. It will not only not elect a Black, it won’t elect a White Democrat.”
Brown represents Florida’s 5th Congressional District that takes in most of Jacksonville and parts of Duval, Clay, Putnam, Alachua, Volusia, Marion, Lake, Seminole and Orange counties. Florida has 27 congressional districts. In addition to Brown’s seat, the other districts impacted most by the remapping are held by three Democrats – Kathy Caster, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel – and four Republicans – Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, lleanna Ros-Lehtinen and David Jolly.
Last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the state’s congressional maps violated a voter-approved 2010 constitutional amendment that prohibits political jurisdictions from being drawn to favor incumbents or a particular party. In a stinging rebuke, the court said, “The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny.”
The court found that Republican strategists had been instrumental in constructing the new maps for the GOP. Although Democrats hold a slight edge among Florida voters – 4.6 million to 4.2 million – the state is represented in Congress by 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats, including Brown. A special legislative session called to redraw congressional districts ended Aug. 21. Legislators went home without making a deal after two weeks of political jousting. The House rejected a request by the Senate to extend the proceedings another week. Consequently, the issue was sent to federal court for resolution. In a 2-page order issued Tuesday, Ed Carnes, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, appointed a three-judge panel consisting of district judges Mark E. Walker, Robert L. Hinkle, and Robin S. Rosenbaum.
Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville native who graduated from Florida A&M University, has been in Congress since 1993.
“There is an overall attack on the Voting Rights Act,” said Brown. It’s not just in Florida – it’s all over.” In another blow to the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 voted to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with a proven history of racial discrimination to pre-clear any election law change with the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. In Florida, Brown said, the gerrymandered districts would have removed some key areas she represents.
Brown explained, “Let me tell you one area that they’ve taken out of my district – Sanford, Fla. Jackie Robinson [the first African American to play major league baseball] couldn’t stay in Sanford, Fla. Every night, he would go to Daytona because they said that if he stayed in Sanford, they would kill him. “Forty years later, Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Fla. ’60 Minutes’ did a special on Sanford, Fla. – on how children were living out of their car, washing up in Walmart and going to school. It took me 20 years to get public housing straight, to get new housing. And now you want to take Sanford, Fla. away from me while the Republican there wants to sell public housing?” Brown said, “So, they are not interested in representative government. All they are talking about is what [shape] the district looks like. We want to make sure we have districts that represents people who have not been represented.”
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a federation of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers, said the Black Press supports Brown’s effort to preserve her district. “The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) strongly affirms the critical importance of voting rights for all Americans, in particular for 45 million Black Americans throughout the United States,” he said. “Further, we specifically support the valiant and continuous efforts of Congresswoman Corrine Brown of Florida’s 5th Congressional District to protect the voting rights of Black Americans and others who reside in her district.” Chavis said, “We are opposed to voter suppression and to Black voter dilution as is the case in the proposed redrawing of the congressional district of Congresswoman Corrine Brown.” Rep. Brown said if her opponents are successful, it would have a devastating impact on Black electoral politics. She said, “After you take out the Congressional, then you take out the Senate, the City Council and we could go back to not having any representation. It’s very serious.”