Two Florida Congressional Districts Ruled as Illegal

A north Florida circuit court judge who briefly came to fame during the George W. Bush/Al Gore 2000 post-election counting process, has declared Florida congressional districts 5 (Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville) and 10 (Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando) illegal per the criteria adopted in the state’s 2010 redistricting ballot initiative. The Democratic legal challenge was launched soon after the lines were enacted in 2011, but technicalities pertaining to the plaintiff’s discovery motions here and in federal court delayed the process until now. Additionally, the US Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision changed the legal situation.

Democratic Judge Terry Lewis, who issued a pro-Bush presidential recount decision 14 years ago, ruled that the two districts fail the compactness criteria as outlined in the voter-passed proposition. Should the entire appellate process, including final review by the Florida State Supreme Court, uphold the Lewis decision districts 5 and 10 will be re-drawn. The tangential changes stemming from altering those boundaries could conceivably affect all of north and central Florida.

Judge Lewis ruled against the Democratic plaintiffs over several other districts, however. He said that Tampa Bay Districts 13 (Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores) and 14 (Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa) are legally drawn. Same for Districts 20 (Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar), 21 (Rep. Peter Deutch, D-Boca Raton), 22 (Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach), 25 (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami), 26 (Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Miami), and 27 (Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami). Therefore, most, if not all, of South Florida will remain in tact.

Questions remain as to when such a re-draw will occur and which governmental branch – legislative or judiciary – will control the pen.

The chances of producing a new congressional map prior to the 2014 election are almost nil. With candidate filing closed and the Aug. 26 primary fast approaching, virtually no time exists to re-draw districts, re-open candidate filing, and comply with all federal notice requirements for overseas voting. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean that elections under an eventual new map will wait until 2016. There is precedence to suggest that special elections could be called in order to bring relief to the illegal districts in question.

It is also unclear at this point whether the court will return the map to the legislature for purposes of crafting a remedy, or if the Supreme Court will either handle the task itself or appoint a special judicial panel to do so.

If and when the districts are re-drawn, the members most affected will of course be representatives Brown and Webster, but other boundaries are sure to change as well. In order of those most seriously affected, Jacksonville Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL-4), north-central Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL-3), northeast coastal Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL-6), and Orlando representatives John Mica (R-FL-7), and Alan Grayson (D-FL-9) could see significant alterations. Others whose boundary lines could be touched are representatives Bill Posey (R-FL-8), Steve Southerland (R-FL-2), Rich Nugent (R-FL-11), and Dennis Ross (R-FL-15).

Now that parts of Florida and Texas are likely to change in 2015, the next set of congressional elections could look considerably different. More than likely, the changes will favor the Democrats, but exactly how many seats the party could gain is currently unclear.

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