The racial tensions that coursed for years beneath the surface in Florida’s redistricting battle came into sharp focus Wednesday as lawyers for each side blasted each other for attempting to use black voters for partisan gain. The conflict emerged at a hearing Wednesday called by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether the Florida Legislature’s redrawn congressional map meets the constitutional standards imposed by voters in 2010. Lewis said he will decide “as quickly as I can” whether to accept the new map drawn by legislators last week in a three-day special session. Legislators had until Aug. 15 to revise two congressional districts he ruled invalid — one held by Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, and the other held by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Webster.
At the center of the controversy is Congressional District 5, which has been held by Brown for 22 years since the Legislature linked together African-American communities in North and Central Florida to elect a black lawmaker. In 1992, Brown, along with Alcee Hastings and Carrie Meek, both of South Florida, were the first blacks to be elected to Congress from Florida since Reconstruction.
Lewis ruled the “bizarrely-shaped” district was gerrymandered and unconstitutional under the new Fair Districts because it served to benefit Republicans.
The Legislature made minor changes to the map but kept most of it in place, a decision supported by Brown and the Democrat-leaning NAACP. The votes for the Legislative plan reflected the racial divide in the Legislature. Most black legislators from northern Florida aligned with Brown in voting for the plan, while other Democrats in both chambers, including blacks in South Florida, opposed it.