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.
A high-stakes trial that could decide the future of the state’s congressional districts began Monday in Tallahassee , as a Republican political consultant testified that he didn’t influence the drawing of U.S. House lines in 2012. The testimony of Marc Reichelderfer marked the beginning of the first-ever court battle over the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments. Those constitutional standards, passed by voters in 2010, bar lawmakers from drawing lines intended to harm or favor parties or candidates when overhauling legislative and congressional districts after each U.S. Census. Over three weeks, members of the Tallahassee establishment ranging from behind-the-scenes aides and consultants like Reichelderfer to high-profile politicians like House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz are expected to answer questions about their role in redistricting as it unfolded two years ago. Weatherford and Gaetz could testify as soon as this week; former House Speaker Dean Cannon is also expected to be called to the stand during the trial.