A Leon County judge and lawyers for the Legislature and voting-rights organizations on Tuesday began muddling through the legal process for deciding on a new set of districts for the 40-member state Senate. While the hearing before Circuit Judge George Reynolds was largely procedural, attorneys for the two sides clashed over whether the coalition of voting-rights organizations, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, faces the same burden of proof as lawmakers do when a full-blown trial about the maps begins Dec. 14. Reynolds has the task of recommending one of five maps — one drawn by Senate aides and four drawn by the voting-rights groups — to the Florida Supreme Court after the existing map was set aside as part of a legal settlement. Lawmakers conceded in that settlement that the current map, drawn in 2012, would likely be found by the courts to violate a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering adopted two years earlier.
A special legislative session called to come up with a replacement for the existing districts collapsed last month after the House and Senate failed to come to an agreement.
The Senate contends that the voting-rights groups should face the same burden of proof as the Legislature does to assure the court that the maps the groups are offering don’t violate the voter-approved “Fair Districts” redistricting standards.
“It just cannot be the law that if you don’t adopt our map, then you can adopt a map that was drawn with improper intent,” said Raoul Cantero, a former Supreme Court justice who represents the Senate in redistricting litigation. “That’s certainly not the intent of the voters when they passed the constitutional amendments.”