Progressive groups suing Florida over its redistricting process have asked a federal judge to recuse himself from the case.
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit over congressional reapportionment filed a motion asserting Judge Allen Winsor must take himself off the case. That’s because Winsor, before his time on the bench, represented the Florida House of Representatives the last time Florida’s redistricting products landed in court. Winsor earlier this month was assigned to a three-judge panel to hear the case.
“Judge Winsor’s previous efforts in this state’s redistricting processes raise legitimate questions about his role in this case, and — irrespective of Judge Winsor’s ability to remain evenhanded — reasonable citizens might question the appearance of impartiality in this case,” the motion reads.
Attorneys for Common Cause of Florida, Fair Districts Now and other individual plaintiffs filed the motion Tuesday in U.S. District Court in the Tallahassee division.
Winsor was appointed to the bench by Republican President Donald Trump in 2018. During his confirmation hearings in the Senate, he described his involvement in the House starting in 2009.
“Beginning in 2009, my firm and I were retained to represent the Florida House of Representatives in the decennial redistricting process,” Winsor said. “Our representation of the House was broader than litigation. Leading up to the enactment of the maps, we worked with and advised House leaders and staff and coordinated with experts.”
That means Winsor represented the House before and after passage of the Fair Districts amendment, language approved by Florida voters in 2010 that puts strict guidelines on the redistricting process. A congressional map approved by the Florida Legislature in 2012 was ultimately tossed by the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 for violating the amendment, specifically a prohibition on drawing a map to benefit a political party.
In fact, attorneys note Winsor arguably was involved as far back as 2005. That year, as an attorney with GrayRobinson, he and colleagues advised the House when it successfully fought against placing a constitutional amendment on the Florida ballot to create an independent redistricting commission.
“While at GrayRobinson, Judge Winsor also represented the Florida House in litigation challenging constitutional amendments that substantively affected redistricting standards — the standards that now control … Florida’s redistricting,” the motion notes.
The application and enforcement of the Fair Districts amendment will inevitably be a central part of litigation, the motion argues.
“Plaintiffs respectfully suggest that a reasonable lay observer informed of the facts would likely doubt Judge Winsor’s impartiality,” the motion states. “This is because Florida’s constitutional redistricting standards will necessarily be implicated in this case should a remedial map be drawn or chosen, and the current actions of the House in purporting to apply those standards will likely be closely reviewed.
“Judge Winsor’s work as the long-standing Florida House’s legal counsel, and his efforts to defeat those redistricting standards, would make it difficult for an informed lay observer to have confidence in his fair resolution of this matter.”
The initial complaint suggests the courts should intervene and implement a congressional map because the state of Florida has failed to do so. It was filed after the Legislature passed a controversial two-map proposal. Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the legislation on Tuesday and called for a Special Session in April for the Legislature to pass a new map of Florida’s 28 congressional districts.