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Florida Enters Uncertain Battle Over District Lines

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The new Florida map that is likely to be signed into law and challenged in court is pretty good for Republicans. But over the course of the next decade, the GOP might have trouble holding the seats of Reps. Bill Young (above), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Florida is supposed to be the Sunshine State, but the outlook is cloudy for the future of the Congressional delegation there.

A constitutional amendment enacted into law by voters in 2010 prohibits the creation of lines "drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." How courts interpret that language part of the amendment shorthanded as Fair Districts may determine the future political makeup of the delegation. And because there is little legal precedent on a law such as this, the outcome is anyone's guess.

"This is really uncharted territory for both parties," influential Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale said.

A compromise Congressional redistricting map, hashed out between the state's two GOP-controlled legislative chambers, passed the state House last week and is expected to soon pass the Senate. Republicans expect Gov. Rick Scott (R) to sign it into law. But before those lines, which would solidify the strong GOP advantage in the delegation, can be put into effect, they must pass both federal preclearance under the Voting Rights Act and the scrutiny of the state courts.

Democrats are certain to sue over the lines as soon as the map becomes law, arguing that it violates the Fair Districts standards.

"The maps are drawn to Republican advantage and incumbent protection," a Florida Democratic operative familiar with the redistricting process said. "What they have done is basically cement the partisan advantage from their maps 10 years ago in this map."

Republicans counter that they were nonpartisan in their drawing of Congressional lines and followed the law as it was written. They insist they met their primary obligation under the new state constitutional language: to prevent a map that resulted in the diminishment of the opportunity for minority voters to elect candidates of their choice.

Because the crux of Democrats' case will be on the political bent of the lines, they'll be burdened with trying to prove GOP intent, as the law doesn't prohibit gerrymandering, only doing so intentionally.

Democrats will argue that the outcome of the map proves what Republicans intended to do. Depositions and subpoenaed emails are also likely to come into play. Both sides admit, however, that how the judicial branch will weigh all that evidence is a big question mark.

"No one really knows," the Democratic operative said. "I think the Congressional map is a tossup, I think it's 50-50" that the courts will decide in Democrats' favor.

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