Judge Terry Lewis approves Legislature’s newest redistricting map
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
It’s beginning to seem like the second time is the charm for the Legislature when it comes to following the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters in 2010.
Lawmakers’ first effort at crafting districts for the state Senate was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court; their second attempt was approved. And after Circuit Judge Terry Lewis struck down the congressional map that lawmakers passed in 2012, on Friday he accepted the version that the Legislature drew in a special session earlier this month.
In doing so, Lewis brushed aside the arguments of voting-rights organizations who said that by continuing the north-south orientation of Congressional District 5, which runs from Jacksonville to Orlando, the GOP was packing too many black voters into that district in an effort to shore up nearby Republican districts.
Opponents of the map wanted District 5 to run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west. Lewis didn’t dispute arguments that the critics’ version was more compact than the Legislature’s, at least by some measurements.
“The Legislature is not required, however, to produce a map that the plaintiffs, or I, or anyone else might prefer,” Lewis wrote. “The Legislature is only required to produce a map that meets the requirements of the Constitution.”
The judge also rejected a request from the League of Women Voters of Florida and other groups that had challenged the map to push back elections in seven districts affected by the rewrite. A lawyer for the voting-rights organizations promised an appeal, despite Senate President Don Gaetz’s request that the litigation end.
“I believe the people of Florida have been given fairness and finality by Judge Lewis’ decision and that going forward Democrats and Republicans ought to spend less time in the courtroom and more time working to build a better Florida,” Gaetz said.
Republican Congressman Daniel Webster, whose district was redrawn as a result of the court battle, appeared to be taking no chances. Webster has established a fund that could be used to pay legal expenses, the National Journal reported.
The filing, according to the National Journal, said the fund is “for the sole purpose of defraying the legal costs … in connection with his candidacy for an election to federal office.”