On a quiet Sunday before Thanksgiving, and Black Friday only days away, Florida politicos received a wonderful early Christmas present.
With the release of over 500 previously secret documents, a clear picture emerges as to why a Circuit Court judge ruled that the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature violated state laws on redistricting.
Like Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News, I also received documents on Sunday cited by Judge Terry Lewis, shining a light on his decision.
This summer, Lewis ruled lawmakers indeed drew congressional districts to favor a particular political party or incumbent, in direct conflict of the Constitution’s Fair District amendments.
Before today, the stack of emails, documents and other correspondence, mostly from Republican consultant Pat Bainter’s Data Targeting, remained sealed. Attorneys hired by the Republican Party of Florida had fought their release on grounds that doing so would infringe on Bainter’s First Amendment rights, as well as divulge trade secrets.
Earlier this month, the Florida Supreme Court ordered the records made public as part of the continuing legal battle by a number of plaintiffs, including the League of Women Voters of Florida. Justices also chastised the consultants for waiting until six months after the first request for documents to raise a First Amendment issue.
On Friday, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clearance Thomas, without comment, rejected a last-minute appeal to keep the records sealed.
So now, what was originally set to come out Dec. 1 is available — in what some can accurately call the “holy grail” of Florida political documents: Read them here.
The so-called “Bainter Documents,” according to Gary Fineout of the Associated Press, is what Lewis based his ruling to force state legislators to call a special session in August to redraw the political maps. The re-redrawn districts will not take effect until the 2016 elections.
Highlights of the email exchanges include plans to gerrymander the longest-serving GOP member of Congress at the time out of office. Another revelation was the admission that former state Sen. John Thrasher did not actually live in his district.
Yet another showed lawmakers calling on GOP consultants to recruit people to submit maps as part of the formal process.
On Thursday, Justices upheld the decision to release the documents, although they agreed to wait until Dec. 1 to issue 538 pages of documents, giving time for one more appeal.
However, Justice Barbara Pariente, in a concurring opinion, said the time to release the documents is now.
“This court has unanimously concluded that the documents and testimony must be unsealed,” Pariente wrote. “The public’s right to view these materials that the trial court relied on in rendering its final judgment has been delayed long enough.”
In the petition to Justice Thomas for an emergency stay, Bainter’s lawyers contended they would be harmed if the information were made public.
Now, you can be the judge.
Lawyers who represented the groups challenging the districts said the records will show the “shadow process” they said existed between the consultants and the Legislature.
Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment. The League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups that sued contended that the congressional map adopted in 2012 violated these new standards.
Lewis in July agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. Legislators in August adopted a new map that alters seven of the state’s existing 27 districts and shifts nearly 400,000 voters in central and north Florida.