By Kyle LoJacono
The Florida House of Representatives won’t have to worry about redistricting for another 10 years, but the Senate is back to the drawing board.
The Florida Supreme Court rejected the state Senate’s new map for its own districts by a 5-2 decision. The main objection was the new alignment did not follow the Fair Districts amendment passed last election cycle, which is meant to eliminate gerrymandering.
“We conclude that the challengers have demonstrated that the Senate plan, but not the House plan, violates the constitutional requirements,” reads the court’s majority opinion written by Justice Barbara Pariente. “We therefore declare the Senate plan constitutionally invalid and the House plan constitutionally valid.”
The court pointed out eight districts as being in violation of state law, none of which are in the Tampa Bay area. The Senate will have to come up with a new plan in time for the primary elections in August.
The Republican-controlled state Senate received criticism from Democrats almost as soon as it proposed the new lines late last year.
“The ruling by the Florida Supreme Court rejecting as unconstitutional the proposed Senate district lines underlined all of the warnings which went unheeded during the redistricting committee hearings and the ultimate vote,” said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich. “The Supreme Court saw the same troubling issues of discrimination and favoritism as the Senate Democrats who voted against these maps, and which go against every fiber of the Constitution’s new anti-gerrymandering amendments overwhelmingly passed by the majority of Florida’s voters.”
The Fair Districts amendment prohibits lawmakers from drawing alignments to favor incumbents or political parties, requires the districts to keep minority voting rights and follow major boundaries like roads, waterways and city/community lines whenever possible.
The Senate’s map was challenged by the Florida Democratic Party, The National Council of La Raza, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida all on the grounds that they were created to keep Republicans in power.
The House’s districts were unanimously passed by the Court. State Rep. Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), the redistricting committee chairman, was happy the lines were passed by the 7-0 vote.
“I am pleased the Florida Supreme Court agrees that the House redistricting map meets the requirements of Florida’s constitution and is legally compliant,” Weatherford said. “The House map is the product of an unprecedented level of public outreach, committee meetings with members on both sides of the aisle and a careful and thorough review of our constitutional redistricting requirements. Our map prioritizes sound principles over politics and I’m proud of my colleagues for producing a legally compliant map that accurately reflects the wishes of residents from around the state.”
All government district lines must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in population found by the Census. Both Pasco and Hillsborough counties have passed commission boundaries, but the latter is being challenged by the Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
The House and Senate combined to draw the lines for Florida’s Congressional districts. The Court has not ruled on those alignments.