Of eight congressional districts the Florida Supreme Court required the Legislature to fix, none is more controversial than U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s District 5. None of the others will change more than this district, which winds south to Orlando but the court says should stretch west to Tallahassee. District 5 and its twists and turns have also been the focus of numerous legal challenges dating back to the 1990s, and those challenges are likely to continue long after new maps are approved this week. Ending the kind of gerrymandering that defines District 5 was the focus of the Fair Districts Amendment that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2010. But legal experts and lawmakers say there is a catch: Compact districts make it harder to create the type of coalition minorities need to elect one of their own to Congress, an effort protected under the federal Voting Rights Act.
“It’s literally true that there’s a tradeoff,” said Steven Hill, a political author based in California who focuses on ways to improve America’s elections system. “You can have more competition or you can have Voting Rights Act consideration. It’s very hard to have both.”
The Supreme Court still intends for District 5 to be a minority-access seat likely to elect an African-American Democrat like Brown, who lives in Jacksonville and has been a member of Congress since 1992. The court said an east-west configuration would achieve that goal in a way that also makes the district more compact and geographically harmonious.