THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, January 24, 2011 --
The Florida House of Representatives has joined a lawsuit to strike down a new constitutional amendment that outlines how lawmakers must draw new congressional districts.
The new requirement, added to the constitution by voters in November, would essentially ban the practice of gerrymandering, meaning lawmakers would have to draw more regular, compact districts with no favor for incumbents or political parties rather than odd-shaped districts that favor the party drawing them or some other group.
Lawmakers fought the amendment unsuccessfully and now take that fight to the courts.
“The U.S. Constitution delegates authority to the state legislatures to draw congressional districts,” House spokeswoman Katie Betta said. “The House believes its constitutional authority has been impeded by Amendment 6.”
But the Republican House and Senate have fought against the requirement since it was put on the ballot last year by grassroots group FairDistricts.org. The two chambers passed counter amendments – which were ultimately struck down by the Florida Supreme Court – in order to try to circumvent the potential requirements laid out in Amendment 6, and its counterpart, Amendment 5, which creates the same rules for state legislative districts.
U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, filed the suit to scuttle Amendment 6, which passed with 63 percent of the vote, the day after Election Day. They argue it violates federal election law guaranteeing equal access for minority candidates. Some districts have essentially been gerrymandered to guarantee the election of a minority.
“Since the litigation has already been filed, it is prudent for the House to be involved in the discussion considering that the interests of the House and the House’s serious constitutional concern with Amendment 6 are being spoken for in this case,” Betta said.
The issue could create a schism in the Republican Party though. Prior to the House joining the suit, Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the U.S. District Court dismiss the case, arguing that Washington D.C., not the South Florida court is the proper venue for cases dealing with congressional districts.
Bondi has been unclear on what she would do if the case was dismissed and then refiled in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. She told reporters last week that her office simply had not gotten that far in evaluating the case.
“Because again, it’s my job to uphold the law whether or not I agree with it and that motion -- we filed that motion because they didn’t file a proper motion, and so that’s where we are right now. And we haven’t gotten any further than that,” she said. “We will be reviewing it.”
A spokeswoman said Bondi is still evaluating the case.
Most of the Democratic Party has been united in favor of Amendments 5 and 6 and state Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Plantation, released a statement Monday saying he was concerned that the House leaders “have decided to waste taxpayers’ dollars” by joining the suit.
“With the passage of the Fair Districts amendments last November, Florida voters sent a clear message that they will no longer tolerate excessive partisan politics in the redistricting process,” he said. “Florida voters want fair and competitive elections, which can only be drawn if the Legislature adheres to the merits of voter-approved Fair Districts’ Amendments 5 and 6.”