Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday gave tentative approval to a new congressional redistricting map that has the potential to unseat at least three incumbent congressional candidates and opens the doors for others to enter the fray. Lewis rejected the Florida Legislature’s third attempt at redrawing its congressional districts and recommended a map proposed by the challengers to the Florida Supreme Court for its final review. His ruling adopted the bulk of the map approved by lawmakers in the northern and central portions of the state but specifically rejected the proposed boundaries for District 26 in Miami-Dade County, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo. The challengers, a coalition of League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida and a group of Democrat-leaning individuals, agreed with the Legislature’s configuration of 20 of the 27 districts proposed in a staff-drawn base map but asked the court to adopt their changes to the remaining districts. Lewis agreed.
“The Legislature has thus not met its burden of justifying the proposed versions of Districts 20 through 27,” he wrote in a 19-page ruling. He said that a map drawn by the challengers showed no evidence of being drawn with partisan intent and “best complies with the directions” set out by the Florida Supreme Court in July. “I therefore recommend its adoption,” he said.
The recommendation will next go to the Florida Supreme Court, which must review the maps, including the court testimony and record, and decide what will be the final boundaries for the 2016 election cycle. On Friday, the court gave the parties until Oct. 27 to respond to Lewis’ ruling.
Lawmakers were handed an unprecedented set of directives in July when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the congressional boundaries used in the 2012 and 2014 elections were invalid because lawmakers had allowed improper interference by political operatives and created congressional districts that illegally favored incumbents and political parties. The court gave them specific guidelines for redrawing eight districts and ordered Lewis to review their work and make a recommendation by Oct. 17.