Florida congressional map gerrymandering illegal, judge rules

A judge said two of Florida's districts were so obviously drawn to advantage Republicans that they violate the law and must be redrawn.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  July 11, 2014 at 3:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 11 (UPI) -- Florida may be forced to redraw its congressional map after a judge ruled Thursday evening two of its districts were so gerrymandered that they make a "mockery" of the state's law.

Voters in the Sunshine State passed a law in 2010 that requires districts to be drawn without trying for partisan advantage.

Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis found two of the state's 27 districts -- the 5th and 10th, represented by Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Dan Webster, respectively -- violated the Fair Districts standards as they were drawn in 2012 by the Republican-controlled state legislature.

"Republican political consultants or operatives did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process," Lewis writes in the opinion. "They made a mockery of the Legislature's proclaimed transparency and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process, utilizing the access it gave them to the decision makers, but going to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it."

Lewis said the 5th District, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando and at one point narrows to just the width of a highway, was drawn to pack in as many Democratic voters as possible so as to improve Republican chances in the surrounding districts.

Each of the six districts with which the 5th shares a boundary -- the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th -- are all currently represented by Republicans.

The 10th District, meanwhile, was drawn according to state law, but was modified to add "an odd-shaped appendage which wraps under and around District 5."

Republicans hold 17 of the state's congressional seats, compared to Democrats' 10, despite the Democrats having an overall registration advantage.

Lewis ordered the districts, and those they touch, be redrawn to accommodate state law, although the state legislature is expected to appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court.

Democrats are expected to pick up seats in 2014, but depending on the appeal and how the districts are eventually redrawn, the decision may not have much of an effect on this year's election outcome.

But in 2016, and after the next census in 2020, the shift could be permanent and profound.

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