A court fight over Florida’s political landscape kicked off Friday, as attorneys for the Republican-controlled Legislature and groups suing them clashed over the question of whether legislators intended to thwart the will of voters when they drew new districts for congressional seats in 2012.
Lawsuits were first filed two years ago. The trial is scheduled to start this month in a dispute that could ultimately change the current makeup of the state’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold a sizable majority. In an effort to speed up the 11-day, non-jury proceedings, both sides were allowed to give their opening statements Friday. David King, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters and other groups suing the state, told Judge Terry Lewis that legislators used a “shadow process,” which allowed them to circumvent a constitutional mandate prohibiting legislators from drawing districts intended to protect incumbents or members of a certain political party.
King said evidence in the case will show that legislators were prodded by Republican consultants to increase the number of minority voters in the district represented by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, which stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, in order to lessen the number of registered Democrats in other central Florida congressional seats.
“It was going to make a significant difference to these other central Florida districts,” said King, who said four districts that initially leaned Democratic wound up getting split between Republicans and Democrats in the 2012 elections.
Every 10 years, lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional districts based on new population figures. Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendments, aimed at preventing gerrymandering when districts are drawn.