July 13, 2015 — Issuing a long-awaited decision late last week, the Florida State Supreme Court on a 5-2 vote, featuring a lengthy and powerful dissent from Associate Justice and former Congressman Charles Canady (R), declared eight congressional districts illegal under the Florida Constitution in reference to the voter-passed redistricting initiative. The 2010 citizen sponsored measure put partisan restrictions on legislative map drawers, and it is under these provisions that the court took its action.
For the short-term, it means that representatives Corrine Brown (D-FL-5), David Jolly (R-FL-13), Kathy Castor (D-FL-14), Ted Deutch (D-FL-21), Lois Frankel (D-FL-22), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL-25), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26), and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-27) will soon have their districts reconstructed and before the 2016 election.
The ruling will force the legislature to convene in special session to redraw significant portions of the map. Though the court singled out these eight districts, the entire state map could conceivably be affected. Certainly the districts that lie adjacent to the seats in question stand a good chance of changing, particularly in the urban areas where multiple districts converge at a single point like in Orlando. By definition, if one district is altered, at least one other bordering seat must also change.
The Tampa Bay area, where both Districts 13 and 14 were declared illegal, could see regions swap between the two seats. Rep. Jolly’s 13th District encompasses all of Pinellas County except for most of St. Petersburg city. Rep. Castor’s 14th CD is a city district, hosting both St. Pete and Tampa directly across the Bay.
A similar situation could exist in West Palm Beach, where Districts 21 (Ted Deutch) and 22 (Lois Frankel) must be redrawn. In Miami, three Republican South Florida districts are affected by today’s ruling.
As has been the focal point of the redistricting battles for two decades, Rep. Corrine Brown’s 5th District, which begins in Jacksonville and travels southwest to Gainesville before ending in Orlando for purposes of annexing minority communities in each municipality, could drastically change. The Voting Rights Act justified the seat’s meandering configuration over the years, but there will be significant changes made to the seat to comply with this particular court ruling.
It is difficult to say how this mapping session will end. The partisanship provisions – in this case meaning Republicans constructed too many GOP seats based upon the state’s voting history – are nebulous and the legislature, still solidly in Republican control with GOP Gov. Rick Scott heading the Executive Branch, could make surprising changes.
Though yesterday’s action probably means a tougher road for Pinellas County’s Rep. Jolly – President Obama already carried his district twice – an interesting twist could be had in West Palm Beach. With the adjoining Democratic seats of representatives Deutch and Frankel both being struck down, and with interlocking territory between the two, a pairing of the two incumbents might be conceivable.
In fixing the Brown district, could the pen go so far west to cause political harm for freshman Democrat Gwen Graham? Redistricting often produces unusual configurations, and the new Florida map may not be an exception.
The final step of the latest redistricting order requires the final maps to be approved by the lower court of origination, so the judiciary maintains a final check on the process.
The new lines are supposed to be in place within the next 100 days. We will witness many literal twists and turns before then. The outcome will affect the 2016 House campaigns, but even tweaks in the important GOP state of Florida is not likely to threaten the Republicans’ strong hold on the House chamber.