As Florida legislators dissolved their two-week redistricting session Friday without agreement on a congressional map, they acknowledged they were ready to repeat something they had done only once before in state history — turning over the complicated task of drawing maps to the courts. The year was 1992, when Bill Clinton and Ross Perot dominated national politics, Florida voters imposed term limits on politicians and Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County. Then, as now, one party controlled government. Lawton Chiles was governor and the House and Senate were run by Democrats. And yet then, as now, political dominance was not enough to overcome the pressures of personal ambition and intra-party divides. The 1992 redistricting session ended in stalemate over a congressional map, and legislators turned the job over to a three-judge panel of federal judges. The court’s signature change was the creation of a sprawling, wishbone-shaped minority-majority seat that linked black communities in 14 counties from Jacksonville to Orlando and back through Gainesville.
The argument: The federal Voting Rights Act protections required the state to link minority communities together where possible to create districts where black and Hispanic voters could elect candidates of their choice.
Now that sprawling district is at the heart of the redistricting ruling from the Florida Supreme Court that ordered the Legislature to redraw its congressional map and specifically end the practice of dividing counties through the center of the state in order to create a black-majority district.
This time, judges specifically ordered that the district run east-west along the northern counties of the state and, because the Legislature couldn’t get the job done, the task will go to Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis. He has until Oct. 17 to complete a plan and send it to the Florida Supreme Court for final review. The first hearing will be Tuesday.