Court invalidates Senate redistricting map
Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Published March 10, 2012
TALLAHASSEE -- On the last day of a once-a-decade redistricting legislative session, the Florida Supreme Court officially ordered overtime by releasing an opinion finding the state Senate's newly drawn districts "facially invalid."
Specifically, the high court decided in a 5-2 ruling that 8 of the Senate's 40 re-drawn districts violated the new Fair Districts standards, including the current seat of Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who lives in a "bizarrely drawn appendage" to the district which the court found to be drawn to help re-elect him.
That district, District 10 in the proposed map, takes in parts of eastern Lake and western Orange counties, but then "squeezes in between Districts 12 and 14 through a small stretch of land less than half of a mile wide in order to create an odd-shaped appendage that reaches out toward District 13, picking up Belle Isle, Edgewood, and Winter Park," the court wrote.
"It is visually non-compact with an appendage that reaches out to clearly encompass an incumbent, and this bizarre shape cannot be justified based on concerns pertaining to ensuring minority voting strength," the court wrote.
The decision is precedent-setting, because the justices have ruled that the 2010 Fair Districts amendments imposing new constitutional standards on redistricting also require more than a cursory review by the court of whether lawmakers followed them.
"The new requirements dramatically alter the landscape with respect to redistricting by prohibiting practices that have been acceptable in the past, such as crafting a plan or district with the intent to favor a political party or an incumbent," Justice Barbara Pariente wrote for the majority. "By virtue of these additional constitutional requirements, the parameters of the Legislature‘s responsibilities under the Florida Constitution, and therefore this Court‘s scope of review, have plainly increased, requiring a commensurately more expanded judicial analysis of legislative compliance."
Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Ricky Polston dissented with the court's decision to invalidate the Senate map.
The court specifically found eight Senate districts had been drawn without complying fully with the new standards, because they packed too many minorities, didn't adequately follow geographic boundaries, or weren't compact enough.
"The Legislature should remedy the constitutional problems with respect to these districts, redrawing these districts and any affected districts in accordance with the standards as defined by this Court," the justices wrote, "and should conduct the appropriate functional analysis to ensure compliance with the Florida minority voting protection provision as well as the tier-two standards of equal population, compactness, and utilization of existing political and geographical boundaries."
While the Senate continued grinding on without releasing a statement Friday, the House reacted in stark contrast -- giving House Redistricting Chairman Will Weatherford a standing ovation moments after the order was released, as he read the passage from the order finding the House maps valid.
After Democratic Rep. Jim Waldman questioned why they weren't also discussing the decision on the Senate districts, House Speaker Dean Cannon clarfied for the body that they would have to return for a special session at some point.
"We understand the difficulty of the court’s duty to review the application of new constitutional language," he said in a statement. "We appreciate the court providing input as their guidance will provide a great deal of help moving forward."
Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, said the defects in the maps could have been avoided.
"The ruling ... underlined all of the warnings which went unheeded during the redistricting committee hearings and the ultimate vote," Rich said in a statement.
"The Supreme Court saw the same troubling issues of discrimination and favoritism as the Senate Democrats who voted against these maps, and which go against every fiber of the Constitution’s new anti-gerrymandering amendments overwhelmingly passed by the majority of Florida’s voters."