Submitted by Mike Appleton, Guest Blogger
The decennial exercise in legislative self-dealing known as redistricting has been frequently assailed as corrupt. Efforts to eliminate the incentive to treat redistricting as an incumbency protection racket by placing term limits on House and Senate members have run afoul of the Constitution. But Floridians may have found a partial solution. As Republicans were strengthening their super-majority status in the state legislature this past November, eagerly anticipating the opportunity to redistrict the remaining Democrats to somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, voters were simultaneously adopting by substantial margins two amendments to the Florida constitution intended to eliminate gerrymandering. And a federal judge has now thrown out the Florida legislature’s constitutional challenge to one of those amendments.
The amendment at issue now appears as Article III, Section 20 of the Florida constitution. It requires that congressional district boundaries not be drawn with an intent to favor or disfavor a particular party or incumbent, or to deny or abridge the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process. It further requires that existing political and geographic boundaries be utilized when feasible. (The second amendment imposes identical requirements on the creation of state legislative districts.)
Almost as soon as the election results were certified, suit was filed by several plaintiffs, including the Florida House of Representatives and Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, claiming that the amendment violates Article I, Section 4 of the U.S Constitution (the “Elections Clause”). That clause reads in part: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”
The substance of the challenge in Diaz-Balart v. Browning (1:10-cv-23968-UU, S.D.Fla.)is that the amendment, having been adopted by citizen initiative, improperly impinges on authority which the Elections Clause grants exclusively to the state legislature to regulate the election process for the U.S. House and Senate. In a concise, clear and well-reasoned order, Judge Ursula Ungaro of the Southern District of Florida granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on September 9th.
Of course, it should not be necessary for a federal judge to remind legislators that the adoption of a measure by voters pursuant to specific constitutional authority is as much an act of legislation as the enactment of a statute through the ordinary legislative process. However, the battle is not over. Republicans spent millions of dollars in an effort to defeat the ballot measure. One of Gov. Rick Scott’s first actions after taking office was to withdraw the amendment from review by the Department of Justice, as required under the 1965 Voting Rights Act due to Florida’s spotty historical record on minority voting rights. He finally resubmitted it after a separate lawsuit was filed to force compliance. And the Florida House of Representatives has authorized up to $30,000,000.00 in taxpayer monies to litigate the measure. Entrenched legislative prerogatives die hard, regardless of the wishes of voters.
The summary judgment order can be found here: http://www.fairdistrictsnow.org/pdf/Diaz-Balart-v-Browning-Opinion.pdf
Sources: Orlando Sentinel; St. Petersburg Times; Redistrictingonline.org; Fairdistrictsnow.org