The U.S. Department of Justice gave its blessing to Florida’s proposed legislative and congressional maps on Monday, clearing one of the last remaining hurdles for the newly drawn districts to be in place in time for the June 4-8 candidate qualifying period. Florida is required to seek “pre-clearance” from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division for most election-law changes because five counties have a history of racial discrimination in elections. The one-page letter from Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez is boiler-plate, stating Attorney General Eric Holder “does not interpose any objection to the specified changes” to the maps. “However, we note that [the federal Voting Rights Act] expressly provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the enforcement of the changes,” it adds.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court approved the new map for Senate districts, and it had already OK’d the House districts. But Florida voting-rights groups that supported the 2010 Fair Districts anti-gerrymandering reforms are suing over the congressional map. The Florida League of Women Voters, National Council of La Raza, Common Cause and the Florida Democratic Party argue it was illegally drawn to preserve Republican strength among the 27-member delegation that will be elected this fall.
In addition, the Florida chapter of the NAACP has argued the Senate map dilutes minority voting strength and is considering a lawsuit. Cuban-American Republicans also have threatened to sue because the Legislature refused to draw a fourth heavily Cuban seat in Miami-Dade County. The federal review is limited to examining whether minority voting-rights could be hindered under the federal voting-rights act — something the Fair Districts reforms also prohibited in the state constitution.