After a regular and two special sessions of Florida’s Legislature failed to pass a legislative redistricting map compliant with Florida’s Constitution, Florida’s courts are now in charge of the redistricting. Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds has scheduled a Dec. 14-18 trial to begin the process of choosing a map from those submitted to him. His recommendation will then be passed on to Florida’s Supreme Court. Legislators have an inherent conflict of interest in drawing legislative districts because in doing so they are picking their voters, which violates the democratic principle that voters should pick their representatives. This conflict results in a gerrymander.
The alternative of having judges choose maps is also problematic because doing so undermines the judiciary’s legitimacy. Americans believe that judges decide fundamental election questions, including legislative redistricting, based on partisan and pro-incumbent criteria. The problem was vividly illustrated in Bush vs. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court case that determined the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Florida and U.S. supreme court judges denied partisan motivation, but the public didn’t believe them.
Fortunately, a way exists for judges to preserve their legitimacy while upholding Florida’s Constitution. Judges inherently have the power to convene a jury, including a “redistricting jury,” to choose among submitted redistricting maps. Here’s how a redistricting jury could work:
Judge Reynolds would convene a randomly selected jury consisting of 240 jurors, a man and women from each of Florida’s 120 House districts and mirroring the partisan composition of Florida’s registered voters. He would then instruct the jury in redistricting law (e.g., districts should be compact and utilize existing political boundaries).