A key Florida Supreme Court justice sounded skeptical Tuesday about the Legislature’s proposal for a contested South Florida district in a battle over the map for the state’s congressional delegation. Meanwhile, two congresswomen vowed to take the fight to the federal courts after their districts were largely ignored during oral arguments before the state Supreme Court, raising the prospect of more uncertainty in the nearly four-year saga about how to redraw the state’s political boundaries under a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering. “There is no justice in this courthouse,” said Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown in a fiery speech after the hearing. “I will be going to the federal courthouse, because there is no justice and there will be no peace. We’ll go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”
The legal arguments about Florida’s political maps continue to mushroom. While the Florida Supreme Court and the Legislature grapple with how congressional districts will be drawn, more legal fights are building in federal courts. Voting-rights groups Friday formally sought to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed this month by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who is among the most-outspoken opponents of a redistricting process spurred by the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts requirements. The groups, which helped spearhead voter approval of the requirements in 2010, argued in a court document that Brown’s position in the case would “eviscerate the Fair Districts amendments.” Also late last week, a coalition that includes state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola Beach, filed a separate lawsuit in federal court alleging that the Fair Districts amendments — and the way they have been carried out — violate constitutional free-speech and due-process rights.
Florida’s prison population is fast becoming a point of contention in the Legislature’s attempt to redraw the state’s congressional districts. The last Census counted more than 160,000 people in Florida correctional facilities, and they cannot vote. But they can skew how districts are drawn, and ultimately who represents the state in the U.S. House of Representatives. That is exactly what U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, is convinced is happening in North Florida. Brown said the proposed new Congressional District 5 stretching from Jacksonville to Tallahassee will see a reduction in the percentage of black residents who are of voting age — a key measure used to ensure black voters can elect who they want to represent them in Congress — from 50 percent to 45 percent under the map that passed the House on Tuesday and is expected to be before the Senate on Wednesday. But Brown, who is suing the Legislature to block the redrawing of her district, said the reduction of the black voting age population in her district could be even greater because her new district would have 17,000 prisoners in it — giving it one of the highest prison populations in the state. Her current district has just 10,000.
Florida: New boundaries for Corrine Brown district highlight conflict between federal protections, state anti-gerrymandering law | Florida Times-Union
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.
Florida: Lawmakers offer flurry of amendments to proposed congressional districts map | Miami Herald
After days of listening to how their staff redrew Florida’s 27 congressional districts in relative seclusion, state legislators Wednesday started taking their own turn at re-mapping the state.By the end of the third day of the 12-day special session on redistricting, at least eight state legislators were working on alternative redistricting plans that, in some cases, would significantly change an initial base map that lawmakers started debating Monday. The result is that who represents millions of Floridians in Congress is far from being resolved.Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, took a different approach to halt the Legislature’s entire redistricting process because of how it portends to change the 5th District she has represented since 1993. Brown said she was filing a lawsuit calling on the federal courts to block the Florida Supreme Court’s directive to change her snaking Jacksonville-to-Orlando district because it would reduce the percentage of black residents who are of voting age.
Fighting to save her congressional district, Rep. Corrine Brown publicly addressed two state legislative committees on Thursday and predicted the new seat drawn by legislators will disenfranchise minorities. But Brown, an African-American Democrat elected in 1992 to a heavily Democratic seat, offered no data to back up her claims and instead spoke of racial injustice — from Trayvon Martin’s shooting to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s current district, which zigs and zags from heavily black areas in Jacksonville to Orlando, has been held up as a poster-child for gerrymandering. Because so many African Americans vote Democrat, her current district helps “bleach” adjacent districts, making them more white and more Republican, giving the edge to the GOP, which also controls the Legislature, where the maps are drawn.
The shifting lines of Florida’s congressional districts could spice up campaigns and signal the end of political careers for veterans and rising stars alike. There are several winners and losers in the “base map” drafted by legislative staffers and under consideration from lawmakers during the special session that ends next week. Here are some observations from the first two days: This is all about two more Democratic seats. If the base map were to be adopted as is, all of the fighting, legal maneuvering, the special sessions, the redrawing, adjusting and tinkering will be over a likely possible gain of two congressional districts for the Democrats. The crux of the discussion over moving U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s north-south district snaking down from Jacksonville into Orlando and moving it to an east-west configuration running from Jacksonville to Tallahassee – what Democratic groups and the League of Women Voters, have suggested from the beginning – will net Democrats two more districts overall, due to changes further down the map.
Implying that a secret, racist agenda may be in play to eliminate Congressional districts drawn to represent black voters, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to stop Florida’s redistricting effort. On Wednesday the Florida Senate released a proposed map that would redraw many of Florida’s 27 Congressional districts to comply with an order from the Florida Supreme Court. That order came following a lawsuit that charged the state’s 2011 redistricting map had been gerrymandered, drawn to assure that certain seats would always be won by one party or another. Brown’s district would be most affected under the proposed map. And her district was specifically cited for change in the Florida Supreme Court order. The new proposal would lop off District 5’s snake-like appendage that meanders from Jacksonville south to Orange County, taking in black communities along the way. Instead, the map proposes District 5 stretch due west from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.
As a Leon County judge finalized the dates for a hearing on a third draft of Florida’s congressional districts, a key lawmaker Monday refused to rule out the possibility of continuing the legal fight over the map, this time in federal court. Meanwhile, attorneys for the Legislature and critics of the 2012 redistricting process declined to discuss whether settlement talks were underway in a separate case dealing with a state Senate map that opponents also say was tainted by political considerations. The legal maneuvering came in the wake of a Florida Supreme Court decision July 9 that struck down eight of Florida’s 27 congressional districts and called for wide-ranging changes to some of them. One of the most dramatic shifts is likely to be switching the district of Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown from a north-south configuration that runs from Jacksonville to Orlando to an east-west arrangement that runs from Jacksonville to Tallahassee.
A Florida Supreme Court ruling last week throwing out congressional maps means districts are less safe for incumbents and the political ground less sure for both major parties, analysts say. Sitting members of Congress don’t know how new districts will affect their re-election chances, and state lawmakers responsible for drawing the maps are unsure how to draft new ones for a third time. Democrats and Republicans will have to grapple with internal tensions brought by redistricting. “Some liken it to musical chairs with high stakes,” said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political-science professor. The ruling was a sharp rebuke to Republican lawmakers in control of the Legislature, but it also brings to the forefront tension between squabbling factions of the Democratic Party.
Florida: Congressional redistricting heads to state’s high court just as lawmakers return to Capitol | Palm Beach Post
The Florida Supreme Court set the day after the opening of the 2015 Legislature for a pivotal hearing into whether the state’s redrawn congressional districts are valid. The court set March 4 for a hearing in the appeal by a coalition of voters’ groups calling for overturning a judge’s ruling that upheld the congressional plan recast by the Republican-led Legislature. The move is the latest in a high-stakes political drama steeped in partisan politics. Following a 12-day trial that ended in June, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis threw out district boundaries approved in 2012 by the Legislature, specifically finding that the districts held by U.S. Reps. Daniel Webster, R-Orlando and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville were drawn to help Republicans maintain overwhelming control of the state’s 27-member congressional delegation.
Lawmakers released a re-drawn congressional map Thursday which would shift the contours of seven U.S. House districts spread throughout Central Florida. On the first day of a court-ordered special session, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, showed how they plan to resolve the two improperly gerrymandered congressional districts held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden. The new map would shift the city of Sanford out of Brown’s seat, and remove an “appendage” of voters in Orange County out of Webster’s. It would drop the black voting-age population of Brown’s seat from 50 percent down to 48.1 percent, and shave some GOP voters from Webster’s seat. But it also changes the maps of five other congressional seats, within 23 counties. Lawmakers said they made those changes in order to solve overall compactness issues with their original plan. “It was not just the two appendages. We needed to address compactness as a whole,” said Senate Reapportionment Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who added it improved the “serpentine-like” shape of Brown’s seat.
Florida legislators indicated Monday that they will meet in special session this week to make the court-ordered repairs to two congressional districts in North and Central Florida but they will not accept holding special elections this year to put them in place. In a joint email to legislators, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they “continue to maintain our strong objection to any attempt to disrupt the current election process.” But they also laid out the schedule for the special session they are convening on Thursday in response to an Aug. 15 deadline imposed on them by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. Lewis ordered lawmakers to revise their congressional redistricting map to fix two districts he had previously ruled unconstitutional, those held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. He wants the Legislature to fix the map to make Brown’s snake-shaped district more compact and to remove an appendage in Webster’s Central Florida-based district intended to give Republicans an advantage.
A judge who ruled Florida’s new congressional districts were unconstitutional earlier this month expressed doubt Thursday that he can postpone next month’s primary election for a quick fix of the political boundaries. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he will rule by the end of next week on a request by the Republican-run legislature to proceed with the 2014 elections, using the flawed district lines. Lawyers for the League of Women Voters and a coalition of Florida citizens argued that there is still time to realign the districts. The judge ordered two districts redrawn because they were designed to benefit incumbents. Those districts are held by U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and Daniel Webster of Orlando.
Florida legislative leaders ended their silence on their rejected congressional map Tuesday and announced they will not appeal a judge’s ruling, but will redraw the invalid map, as long as they can wait until after the 2014 election. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz asked Judge Terry Lewis to clarify his ruling about the timing of the revisions he is ordering when he ruled that two districts violate the Fair Districts standards of the state constitution, rendering the entire map invalid. Lewis scheduled a hearing on the case for Thursday. Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Tuesday that revising the districts in the midst of a campaign season — after ballots have been printed and campaigns launched — would be impractical and disruptive. Elections officials sent overseas absentee ballots by Saturday, before lawmakers announced the decision not to challenge the maps.
Two top Republican leaders in Florida announced Tuesday that the Legislature would redraw the boundaries for the two congressional seats that a judge ruled unconstitutional, but they said they did not want the map to take effect until the 2016 elections. In agreeing, for the moment, not to appeal Thursday’s state court decision, Will Weatherford, the State House speaker, and Don Gaetz, the State Senate president, are hoping to persuade the judge that the 2014 elections would be thrown into “chaos” if the process was rushed. The Legislature’s decision surprised analysts and lawyers who expected a protracted legal fight. Still, the possibility of an appeal remains, depending on the judge’s decision.
After political operatives helped redraw the boundaries of Florida’s Fifth Congressional District, now held by Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat, it snaked all the way from Jacksonville to Orlando, packing in more Democrats, but also benefiting Republicans in nearby districts. In a similar process in the 10th District, in the Orlando suburb of Winter Garden, an “appendage” was tacked on benefiting the incumbent, Representative Daniel Webster, a Republican. On Thursday night in a scathing decision, a state court judge tossed aside those district lines, saying they “made a mockery” of a voter-approved amendment meant to inject fairness into a process that has long been politically tainted. But Judge Terry P. Lewis’s blistering attack offered no remedy or timetable for fixing the boundaries. With Florida’s primary election only six weeks away, it is unclear whether voters will cast ballots on Aug. 26 and then on Nov. 4 based on a map that a judge has declared unconstitutional — or whether changes, if they withstand appeal, will be postponed until 2016.
The court ruling that invalidated Florida’s congressional districts this week will give voters in November’s elections something they are used to: uncertainty. Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Legislature’s 2012 congressional map and specifically ordered two of the state’s 27 districts redrawn to comply with the state’s Fair Districts constitutional amendment. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, should see her sprawling district become more compact and follow traditional political boundaries, Lewis ruled. And U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Winter Garden Republican, should have his Orlando-based district revamped to eliminate the partisan advantage that came when lawmakers swapped out Hispanic Democrats for white Republicans. Among the harsh criticism Lewis directed at the Republican-controlled Legislature was that they allowed “improper partisan intent” to infiltrate the redistricting process and seemingly ignored evidence that partisan political operatives were “making a mockery” out of their attempts to conduct themselves with transparency.
A federal judge won’t block Florida’s plan to cut the required early voting days from 14 down to eight. Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled that there was not enough proof that the change burdened the ability of African-Americans to vote. Nor did opponents prove that the law was discriminatory in intent or effect, he wrote. In addition to cutting the number of mandatory early voting days, the new Florida law eliminates early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, a day when high percentages of minority voters headed to the polls in 2008. (That surge might be in part due to black church activism, known as “Souls to the Polls.”) The new law mandates two Saturdays and one Sunday for early voting, but not the Sunday before Election Day.
A federal judge in Jacksonville refused to halt Florida’s plan to cut the number of early voting days from 14 days to eight days. Judge Timothy Corrigan ruled Monday there was not enough proof to show that the change approved last year by the Florida Legislature would harm black Americans’ right to vote. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., along with the Duval County Democratic Party and a civil rights group, challenged the law this summer in federal court. Their lawsuit contended the change was discriminatory because blacks voted early in higher percentages, especially during the 2008 election in which President Barack Obama carried Florida. They were especially critical of the new law because it eliminated early voting on the Sunday before Election Day when black churches would organize “souls to the polls” drives.
A federal judge on Wednesday questioned the decision by the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature to limit the number of early voting days heading into this year’s crucial presidential election. Judge Timothy Corrigan, an appointee of President George W. Bush, held a three-hour hearing in a Jacksonville courtroom on whether he should block the 2011 law that cut the number of days from 14 to eight. The court battle comes just weeks before voting is scheduled to start in the key swing state and is one among a series of legal battles dealing with Florida voting procedures. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., as well as the Duval County Democratic Party and a civil rights group, filed a lawsuit this summer that challenges the law. Their lawsuit contends that the move was discriminatory because blacks voted early in higher percentages, especially during the 2008 election in which President Barack Obama carried Florida.
Florida: Clay County Republicans, other GOP groups, oppose Corrine Brown’s early voting lawsuit | jacksonville.com
Arguing that their political operations would be hampered, three county Republican Parties — including the Clay County GOP — have joined a legal fight over newly minted early voting hours. The lawsuit was filed by, among others, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat. It challenges 2011 legislation that cut early voting days from a maximum of 14 to eight and decreased the required number of early voting hours from 96 to 48. Under the legislation, election officials have the option to keep early voting open for 96 hours, but it’s not required. Brown’s lawsuit asks the Florida Secretary of State and Duval County Supervisor of Elections to use the state’s old early voting schedule. She says the new law impacts minority voters because they use early voting in large numbers, especially on the Sunday before the election. In a motion accepted Monday by Jacksonville federal Judge Timothy Corrigan, the Republican Parties of Broward, Clay and Sarasota counties said their interests are not represented by the defendants and they want to join the lawsuit.
Days before early voting begins in Florida, a Democratic member of Congress wants a federal court to block the state from what she calls a racially motivated reduction in the days of early voting. U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville filed suit Friday in U.S. District Court along with the Duval County Democratic Party, several residents and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Brown says the reduction in early voting days unfairly discriminates against African-American voters and violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit asks a judge to enjoin the state from implementing the new, shorter early voting schedule. “More than any other racial or ethnic group, African-Americans have come to rely on early voting,” Brown said. Although the changes to early voting adopted by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight, the maximum number of hours of potential early voting remains the same: 96.