The legal team that uncovered the shadow redistricting process that invalidated Florida’s congressional and Senate districts didn’t rely just on maps and cloak-and-dagger emails to prove that legislators broke the law. The best clues came in the form of data — millions of census blocks — delivered electronically and found in the files of political operatives who fought for two years to shield it. The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in July that lawmakers were guilty of violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and ordered them to redraw the congressional map. It was a landmark ruling that declared the entire process had been “tainted with improper political intent” — a verdict so broad that it prompted an admission from the state Senate that lawmakers had violated the Constitution when they drew the Senate redistricting plan in 2012. The Legislature has scheduled a special session in October to start over on that map.
But the breakthrough for the legal team — lawyers for the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters and their redistricting experts — came just days before the May 19, 2014 trial on the congressional map was set to begin.
After two years of legal challenges, Florida justices ruled that emails, maps and accompanying data produced by political consultants and related to redistricting must be produced and could be discussed at trial. The challengers had already learned that the Legislature’s maps selectively shed and added populations to congressional districts to improve the performance for incumbent candidates, but they had only circumstantial evidence that the maps found on the computers of the political consultants played a role.