Expect a review of Florida’s proposed legislative maps to be completed sooner than expected.
The Senate on Feb. 3 passed a bill that combined both the Senate map (S 9058) and the House map (H 8013) in a single piece of legislation. Attorney General Ashley Moody on Feb. 9 petitioned the Supreme Court for a high-level review of the maps and asked for a summary judgment.
The court left open a case file for any interested parties to challenge the maps, but a midnight deadline passed Monday evening without any parties filing an objection. Based on that, the redistricting case was submitted to the court justices for consideration without hearing oral arguments.
Speaker Chris Sprowls on Tuesday guffawed at the end of the House floor session that no arguments against the maps were filed, even though most Democrats in the chamber voted against the maps and argued they would not pass constitutional muster.
“There were those who said that our state House map was gerrymandered,” said Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican. “(T)hat it was wildly unconstitutional, that the map was indefensible. More disturbing insinuations were made. They called into question the integrity of some of our members, and worse, some of our staff who worked on redistricting maps.”
That left Sprowls surprised nobody would level the same accusations in actual arguments before the high court.
“Not a single group, not a single individual challenged a single House district in the Florida Supreme Court,” Sprowls said.
Nicholas Warren, an ACLU lawyer who has closely followed the redistricting process, said this marked the first time a legislative apportionment went unopposed at this stage since the automatic Florida Supreme Court review of maps was first mandated in 1968.
Meanwhile, Rep. Joseph Geller, the ranking Democrat on the House Redistricting Committee, defended making accusations that the maps were not constitutional while failing to raise the same objection in legal filings.
House Democrats throughout the redistricting process argued the fact the final map has the same number of minority access seats, 30, as appeared on the map a decade ago despite disproportional growth of Florida’s Hispanic population meant the maps failed to provide proper representation for those communities.
But Geller has also noted that when Florida Senate and congressional maps were thrown out by the courts last decade, it took three years, until 2015, for opponents to prove their case.
“If the House map is thrown out for being constitutionally deficient under Fair Districts, or because it violates the Voting Rights Act, it will be after a full trial with all the facts in the sunshine. It would not likely be after the extremely limited review available at the Florida Supreme Court right now,” Geller said. “This is especially the case given the extremely compressed timeline the Court is operating under for this initial review. Filing in the Supreme Court proceeding would only have delayed proceedings and slowed down access to a trial.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but this may be the reason that no one in the state filed comments or briefs in this proceeding. If anyone wants to know where we stand on the maps, they have only to look at the extensive record we developed in committees and on the House floor to see our concerns about minority voter packing and cracking, lack of language minority voter protection, and indeed the entire redistricting process in the House.”
Sprowls, meanwhile, expressed confidence the maps will survive scrutiny now and in the future.
“I’m confident that they will see the hard work that was done in the faithful adherence to the law that gave birth to the House map,” he said. “I’d like to congratulate all of the members of the committee who worked on the House map, who participated in the creation of the map. For those individuals or groups, or who represented individuals that said these maps were unconstitutional, that they were indefensible, I hope that they will acknowledge the mistake that they made and they will acknowledge the great work conducted.”
Florida Politics reporter Renzo Downey contributed to this report.