Two Florida Republican Party officials have filed a federal lawsuit to block the state’s anti-gerrymandering constitutional clauses, arguing the provisions limit First Amendment speech and amount to “thought policing.” The lawsuit, filed Tuesday night in the conservative-leaning Pensacola division of the Northern District of Florida, comes less than a week before the start of a special legislative session to redraw some of the state’s 27 congressional districts. Citing email correspondence from GOP consultants, the Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that at least eight congressional districts were improperly drawn and violated the 2010 voter-approved “Fair Districts” amendments that prohibited lawmakers from intentionally drawing political boundaries to favor or disfavored political parties or incumbents. But Pasco County Republican Party chairman Randy Maggard and his Walton County counterpart, Tim Norris, say the amendments themselves infringe on their right to free speech. They also say the court’s interpretation of the law ultimately violates their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights because members of political parties are unfairly limited in speaking with elected representatives about redistricting in the future.
“It is one thing for Florida’s Constitution to require that elected representatives elected under the banner of a political party create districts that may not ‘be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party of an incumbent,’ however quixotic that requirement may be, but it is another thing altogether to assert that such a requirement can only be enforced by prohibiting certain individuals’ speech about the possible political consequences of redistricting decisions,” they argue in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit names Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner as a defendant. Detzner’s office is reviewing the suit.
The coalition of liberal-leaning voting-rights groups that helped put the Fair Districts amendments on the ballot, and then sued over Florida’s maps, are expected to intervene in the suit.