The Justice Department today precleared Florida's Congressional map, making the GOP-friendly lines enforceable law.
The new lines, passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by GOP Gov. Rick Scott, are likely to lead to Democrats picking up two to four seats in November. But the Florida delegation is almost certain to remain overwhelmingly Republican. The current House delegation includes 19 Republicans and six Democrats. Reapportionment granted Florida two new seats because of increases in population.
The 1965 Voting Rights Act requires the Justice Department or the federal court in Washington, D.C., to certify new Congressional maps before they can be enforced.
In a letter to attorneys for the Legislature, Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said the attorney general "does not interpose any objection to the specified changes." That means the DOJ doesn't believe the map violates the Voting Rights Act, though other entities can still sue in federal court over it.
The final legal hurdle for these maps appears to be a Democratic challenge in state court. The state Democratic Party alleges that the map violates the Florida Constitution. A 2010 voter-approved amendment prohibits line-drawers from creating maps "with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent," among other things. A decision is pending.
If the state court were to change the map or to ask the Legislature to redraw the lines, the DOJ would need to approve the new map before it could become law.
State Democrats played down the ruling.
"This is not unexpected," said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "The question of the map's constitutionality — whether they comply with the Fair District Amendment — is currently before the Leon County [Circuit] Court, and we expect word soon."
Republicans were excited by the news.
“Today’s preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice signifies the final approval of the state legislative and Congressional maps passed by the Florida Legislature," state Rep. Will Weatherford, who led the redistricting effort, said in a statement. "I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues and all of the input we received from Floridians throughout the process. With their help, we were able to draw fair and compact maps that puts the interests of Floridians over the interests of politicians."
See the DOJ letter here: [scribd id=91864398 key=key-okn63jinn072ukdssst mode=list]