BRADENTON – Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has given the Florida Legislature two weeks to design a new congressional map for Central Florida that doesn't conflict with the state's Fair District requirements. With the Primary Election set for August 26, those involved are bracing for chaos.
Three weeks ago, Lewis ruled that seats held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Jacksonville) and Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden) were drawn by lawmakers with partisan intent, violating the Fair Districts Act, an amendment to the state constitution that was passed by voter referendum in 2012.
The Legislature did not appeal the ruling, but their lawyers argued that they should have until the 2016 elections to redo the maps for those districts. The groups that filed suit, led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, argued that since the maps were found unconstitutional, Lewis had an obligation to prevent them from being used in the primary, as well as the November 4 general election.
Judge Lewis said there was no ideal solution considering that absentee ballots had already been cast, but nonetheless ordered the Legislature to draw a new map by August 15, with an August 20 hearing for both sides to argue over its merits.
"It is necessary to get a revised map in place and for me to consider additional evidence as to the legal and logistical obstacles to holding delayed elections for affected districts in 2014," Lewis wrote in his ruling.
The League of Women Voters of Florida applauded the ruling.
"This is a champagne moment for Florida voters, who have waited too long for fairly drawn congressional districts," said LWV of Florida President Deirdre Macnab in a release. "Per his ruling, Judge Lewis has laid out a path that will allow all Florida voters, for the first time in decades, to elect their representatives in fair and constitutional districts. We believe that the restoration of legitimate, representative democracy is well worth one extra trip to the polls.
"Although it is deplorable that the Legislature's failure to follow the standards laid out in the state Constitution has led us to this place, now that they have been tasked with redrawing the districts between now and August 15, it is critical that their process follows the will of the people and adheres to the letter and spirit of Fair Districts amendments 5 and 6, as they were passed by an overwhelming majority of the electorate in 2010.
"Judge Lewis has shown that legislative violation of our Constitution will not be tolerated, will have consequences, and that the will of the people will be enforced. This gives hope to other states grappling with the cancer of political gerrymandering and the League is thrilled to see that the people's voice has been heard."