In a blow to Florida Democrats, a state judge on Friday approved a slightly modified congressional map drawn by the Republican-dominated Legislature and decided that the 2014 election could proceed under the old map, which he had ruled unconstitutional. Two days after a sharply partisan hearing on the new map, Terry P. Lewis, a state judge in Leon County, concluded that the rejiggered boundaries for seven districts, while not perfect, “sufficiently” addressed his constitutional concerns. A coalition of Democratic-leaning voter rights groups had asked Judge Lewis to reject the map because it did little to change the existing boundaries. They asked him to consider their alternative, which took an entirely different approach. But Judge Lewis disagreed. He ruled that the Legislature is not required “to produce a map that the plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer.” He continued: “The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the constitution. My ‘duty’ is not to select the best plan, but rather to decide whether the one adopted by the Legislature is valid.”
David King, a lawyer for the coalition led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, said in a statement that the group planned to appeal the ruling. The coalition had also sought to delay the 2014 primary and general election in the affected districts until a new map could be put in place, arguing that voters should not be forced to cast ballots based on an illegal map. The judge rebuffed that request.
The decision is a significant victory for Republicans in the Legislature who made only slight changes to the old map, which Judge Lewis ruled unconstitutional in a scathing decision in July that accused the party of making a “mockery” of the redistricting process. The judge said that Republican consultants, in particular, had subverted a 2010 state constitutional amendment seeking to force fairness and transparency into the highly partisan process of drawing electoral map boundaries.