In a stinging blow to opponents of the state’s anti-gerrymandering amendments, a federal court this week has thrown out a lawsuit filed by two Florida Republican Party officials who claimed the new law violated the constitution because it had a “chilling effect” on their free speech and petition rights. Tim Norris, the Walton County Republican Executive Committee Chairman and Randy Maggard, the Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Chairman. sued the Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner in August, demanding that he not enforce the Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution. They made the argument being echoed by many lawmakers that their speech is chilled because, as members of a political party, it will be used to invalidate a map. Hoping to find a venue that was most favorable to them, they filed the case in the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola. But in a 16-page opinion, the chief judge of the district, Judge M. Casey Rodgers, who was appointed by George W. Bush, rejected their argument and dismissed the case.
“The problem with Plaintiffs’ position is that they have not shown that their speech or conduct is prohibited or even ‘arguably forbidden’ by the Fair Districts Amendments on their face or as applied,” Rodgers wrote.
She concluded that the amendments added to the Florida Constitution in 2010 were directed at the Florida Legislature “no one else” and there has been no barrier to citizen political speech but added, “Plaintiffs have no First Amendment right to a partisan map.” The ruling is the latest in a string of successes for the proponents of the Fair Districts amendments.
The court noted that the emails of the political operatives were sought as “a result of the Legislature’s failure to operate transparently in the redistricting process, as required by Florida’s strong public policy.” When lawmakers destroyed draft redistricting maps, emails and other records when drawing the congressional maps in 2012, that “left the challengers no means of determining legislative intent absent discovering the communications through a lawful legal process,” she wrote.