Recently released documents related to the decennial redistricting process in Florida show that the firm in charge, Data Targeting, made a concerted effort to benefit the state’s Republican Party and keep it all out of the sunshine. One email even made note of the need to converse over the phone instead of by email. I’m not surprised. Back in July, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that Republican operatives “made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting.” The 538 pages of records show that’s exactly what happened. While redistricting always has been a kind of behind-closed-doors process, what was different this time around was Florida’s Fair Districts amendment passed by 63 percent of voters. Not only were the state’s open-government laws violated, the amendment states in part that “congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.” The next step is up to the Florida Supreme Court. The groups that filed the original challenge will argue that the revised map approved by Judge Lewis after last summer’s special legislative session doesn’t fix the many violations of the amendment. Oral arguments are set for March 4.
A case that was heard by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court last month, however, may influence how the Florida court rules. It involves racial gerrymandering in Alabama and how the Voting Rights Act can influence redistricting decisions.
In the 1990s, civil rights groups and the Justice Department made the case for drawing districts in such a way as to favor the election of black representatives in Congress and state legislatures. But the plaintiffs in the case of Alabama Legislative Black Caucus vs. Alabama say the state went too far in 2012 by packing even more black voters into districts that already had black majorities.
This prompted Justice Antonin Scalia to raise the question of using race in the redistricting process when a speaker for the black caucus called the policy of black-packing “dangerous business” by using rigid racial quotas. “You realize, I assume, that you’re making the argument that opponents of the black plaintiffs used to make here,” Justice Scalia told him. “You’re reducing their influence statewide because they are all packed in.”