Lawyers for the Florida House and Senate filed briefs Saturday defending the constitutionality of new legislative maps. They also argue the Florida Supreme Court should avoid implementing any maps not approved by the Legislature.
That’s a move that pushes against 2015 court rulings that tossed cartography approved for Florida Senate districts and the state’s congressional seats.
Maps approved by the Legislature for Florida’s 40 Senate and 120 House districts undergo an automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court. This year for the first time, nobody has filed any legal objections to those maps, although entities including Latino Justice and the League of Women Voters of Florida have threatened legal action in the future.
Maps approved by the Legislature in 2012 survived the initial high-level review by the Florida Supreme Court, which has just 30 days to evaluate the product for glaring legal issues. But a lawsuit from the League and Common Cause eventually uncovered planted maps from interested third parties that influenced the Senate and congressional maps. Circuit Judge George Reynolds ultimately replaced the Senate map, while the Florida Supreme Court implemented a plan submitted by plaintiffs for Florida’s congressional lines.
Lawmakers this year prioritized avoiding any of the pitfalls in the 2012 reapportionment process, legal briefs state.
“Mindful of the circumstances that led to the invalidation of senatorial and congressional districts during the last redistricting cycle, the Senate adopted procedures and standards early in its process to guard against a similar result,” reads a brief filed by law firm Shutts & Bowen on behalf of the Senate.
Lawyers for both chambers argue the maps abide by all constitutional requirements. That includes protecting minority communities’ voting strength and ensuring it was not diminished in the maps.
“The House assiduously followed the law,” reads a brief from law firm GrayRobinson and Speaker Chris Sprowls’ office. “Its strict compliance with all governing standards demonstrates that the House Map was not drawn with any improper intent to favor or disfavor political parties or incumbents. The House lived up to its constitutional obligation and drew districts without intentional political favoritism.”
The Fair Districts amendment to the state constitution, which voters passed in 2010, requires drawing such apolitical lines.
Both the House and Senate cited reporting by Florida Politics on the number of incumbents seeking re-election who would be in districts with colleagues within the chamber.
“Although not part of this record, news outlets have reported that as many as seven seats might swing from Republican to Democratic under the House map, and that no fewer than 19 incumbents find themselves in districts with another incumbent — often within their own political parties,” reads the House brief.
“The Senate’s map drawers did not consider any member’s residence information when drawing district lines, but news outlets have subsequently reported that the Senate Plan draws multiple incumbent Senators (of both political parties) into districts with one another,” the Senate brief states.”
Eight sitting Senators would reside in districts with colleagues on the new Senate map. By contrast, a Senate map approved in 2012 had zero incumbents from either party living in the same districts.
Despite facing no legal objections at this stage, the briefs filed on behalf of both chambers gird against the outcome from 2015, namely the implementation of maps drawn outside the legislative process.
“Although the Senate plan is valid under any standard of review, the Senate respectfully requests that this Court recede from Apportionment I and restore the traditional standard of review that this Court applied in reviewing legislative apportionment during the prior four decades,” the brief states.
Apportionment I is a reference to the case against the 2012 maps.
The Senate brief cites the dissent in that case, written by Justice Charles Canady, who argued it’s purely the role of the Legislature to draw maps. Canady notably now serves as Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, but he has recused himself from all reapportionment rulings this year as his wife runs for a seat in the Florida House.
The House brief echoes the Senate position.
“This Court’s role is not to select the ‘best plan,’” the House brief argues.