A Florida state circuit court ruled against a Democratic challenge to the state’s new Congressional map, denying a motion that the map violates the state constitution and declining to issue an injunction against the map. The news comes hours after the Department of Justice greenlighted the GOP-drawn Congressional map. This, in effect, means that Democrats are probably stuck with the map passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature earlier this year, which keeps most of the 19 Republican Members in comfortably safe districts. While Democrats could appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, legal observers believe it is probably too late to change the 2012 lines. “The Florida Democratic Party led an unprecedented effort to ensure that the will of the people was heard in the redistricting process and to hold the Republican-led Legislature accountable to Florida’s Constitution,” FDP Executive Director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement. “We remain concerned about elements of the map and we will continue to evaluate our legal options moving forward.”
The Florida Constitution prohibits drawing Congressional maps “with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent,” among other things. The crux of the Democrats’ case was that the GOP-drawn map did not abide by that constitutional requirement. The judge hearing the case, Terry P. Lewis, said in his ruling that the plaintiffs didn’t meet their burden of proof to “show beyond a reasonable doubt” that the lines are unconstitutional.
“Obviously we’re pleased with both [the DOJ and court decision] because what it means is we can go forward with our elections process in November,” said state Rep. Will Weatherford (R), who oversaw the Legislature’s redistricting effort. “We took this process very seriously,” he told Roll Call. “We made sure we respected those districts protected by Section 2 and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” Both decisions were victories for Weatherford, who becomes Speaker of the state House later this year and is considered a rising star in Florida politics.