A congressional redistricting trial in Florida was scheduled to conclude Wednesday afternoon, the results of which could force the legislature to redraw the district boundaries before November, throwing current congressional campaigns into chaos.
“I don’t think there’s any congressional campaign here that’s discounting that possibility,” said one Florida Democratic insider, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the ongoing case.
The issue in the trial, known locally as Florida’s “Game of Thrones,” is whether the GOP-led Legislature violated the state’s new Fair Districts Amendment during redistricting following the 2010 U.S. Census. A verdict is expected by the end of the month.
The 2010 amendments state, “No apportionment plan or individual district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” They also protect minority-voting opportunities and mandate districts be compact and follow geographical boundaries when possible.
But the plaintiffs charged that legislators violated the newly amended constitution by purposely drawing a map to favor Republicans and incumbents. The two sets of plaintiffs include groups such as the League of Women Voters and a number of individuals. While the opponents of the map argued that the entire map violated the state constitution, they also cited specific districts as suspect under the new lines. Court documents show the plaintiffs questioned the lines in 20 of Florida's 27 House districts. According to the Miami Herald , the plaintiffs were especially focused on the following four districts: the 5th District, held by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown; the 10th District held by GOP Rep. Daniel Webster; the 13th District, held by GOP Rep. David Jolly; and the 14th District, held by Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor.
The Republican defendants, who included current and former state legislators, argued that the new congressional map was not drawn to favor the GOP.
“We went to great lengths to depoliticize the process,” Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford testified in court.
Weatherford also said political consultants were barred from participating in redistricting. But plaintiffs argued that meetings between consultants and GOP staff demonstrate otherwise.
The plaintiffs also pointed to maps that were supposedly submitted by citizens in the public online forum that had identical features to the consultants’ maps as evidence of an effort to subvert the process and pass a gerrymandered map.
The trial featured a who's who of Florida Republican politicos, with legislators and consultants taking the stand to testify about the inner workings of the redistricting process.
Drama ensued. One legal fight to keep a consultant's emails confidential caused the live online broadcast to abruptly switch to other programming because a portion of the trial was closed to the public .
With a verdict expected in the coming weeks, Judge Terry Lewis could rule that the maps need to be redrawn for the 2014 elections, which some observers say is unlikely due to a tight time frame. The May 2 filing deadline has passed, and the primary is Aug. 26.
However, Dr. Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor, said a new map could be drawn by the August primaries because the court could redraw the maps itself if the legislature would not act in time.
Also, McDonald said that due to the recent Supreme Court decision altering the Voting Rights Act, Florida does not have to wait 90 days for the federal government to approve its redistricting plan for the five counties with a history of discrimination. So the redistricting process would be put on a "fast track." However, regardless of the judge's ruling, the case is likely to be appealed and ultimately settled by the Florida Supreme Court.