With the election clock ticking, a Florida circuit court judge said Wednesday he will decide quickly on whether to throw out the Legislature’s congressional redistricting map, develop a new map in a matter of weeks or leave it alone. “I am very much aware of the logistical problem we have,’’ said Judge Terry Lewis of the Second Judicial Circuit, referring to the prospect of invalidating all or part of the congressional map and creating a new one in time for candidates to qualify to run in June. Lewis must not only consider the impact of revising the districts in the midst of election season, but must navigate complex and conflicting arguments over racial politics in Florida. Faced with an unprecedented assignment for a Florida circuit court judge, Lewis asked lawyers about the redistricting software he might use, the kinds of data that would be available and suggested that there is a downside to conducting an expedited trial that results in the court taking control of the Legislature’s work product. But after six hours of hearings in which lawyers for opponents asked him to reject the map and lawyers for legislators urged him approve it, he announced: “I’m going to treat it seriously. I’m going to do the best I can as quick as I can and I’m going to address everybody’s arguments.”
At issue is the congressional redistricting map passed by legislators in February and whether it respects the political and geographic boundaries, creates districts as compactly as possible, and properly protects the voting rights of minorities. A group of citizens, the Florida Democratic Party and the Fair Districts coalition have sued to invalidate the map. They allege it violates the new anti-gerrymandering standards imposed by voters in 2010.
Their most racially charged allegation is that the Republican map illegally packs Democrats into districts to bleach the adjacent districts and make them elect more Republicans. They argue that the black districts should include fewer Democrats, thereby spreading out their voting strength and making the adjacent districts more competitive.