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Senate Map Ruled Constitutional

April 26, 2012 - 6:00pm

Republican lawmakers can say they were correct to focus on the new boundary lines just around the eight Senate districts initially declared unconstitutional.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that the Senates second attempt to redraw its political boundary lines is valid.

The decision means lawmakers with an eye on 2012 Senate contests can begin to crank their campaigns into gear. If the court had rejected the map, the justices would have overseen the drawing of new lines before the candidate-qualifying period in June.

Contrary to the fears, or perhaps the hopes, of the cynics and the critics, Floridas citizens will now go forward to choose from among their neighbors who will represent them in the Senate and House of Representatives, Senate President-designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who headed the Senate Reapportionment Committee, wrote to legislators on Friday.

Those elections will be held on time. Absentee and overseas ballots will be sent well in advance. Early voting will occur as scheduled.

The court had rejected the Senates first map on March 9, declaring eight of the 40 districts on the Senate map failed to meet standards of the Fair Districts amendments and that the renumbering plan devised by the Senate could allow some currently sitting members to exceed the state constitutional term-limit requirements.

Instead of starting over during a called special session, Republicans in the Senate -- Democrats voted against the redrawn map concentrated on shifting lines around the eight contested districts to better fit the courts views expressed when the first map was rejected.

"We are gratified that the Florida Supreme Court understood that the Senate in good faith complied with the Court's direction and redrew the eight invalidated districts, and the districts surrounding them, in a constitutional manner," stated Raoul G. Cantero, who represented the Florida Senate before the court.

"Senator Gaetz, chair of the reapportionment committee, and the committee members made every effort to implement the Court's direction and apply these new provisions of the Florida Constitution. There are many ways to draw a reapportionment plan. The question in this case was not about whose plan was the best, but about whether the Senate's plan was valid. The Court held that it was."

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, credited Gaetz for the map being able to stand up to the court challenges.
I am proud of the redistricting process we conducted -- it was transparent, inclusive and above all else, it meets the requirements set forth in our constitution.

The map had been challenged in court by Florida Democratic Party, the League of Women Voters, National Council of La Raza, Common Cause and the Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches.

Representatives from those organizations were not immediately available for comment Friday.

In the second go-round, the majority of the court rejected arguments from the critics that the boundary lines failed to follow the anti-gerrymandering requirements of the voter-approved Fair Districts amendments.

The amendments, approved by voters in 2010, require districts to be compact and follow natural and government lines while prohibiting lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or political parties.

Pursuant to this Courts directive, the Legislature adopted a revised Senate apportionment plan that sought to remedy the constitutional infirmities apparent on the face of the invalidated Senate plan, the justices wrote in the order released Friday.

In this proceeding, we conclude that the opponents have failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Floridas constitutional requirements.

The decision came with some dispute among the justices.

Justices James E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince dissented over the lines of the new District 8 for splitting a historically black district in Daytona Beach to the benefit of the GOP.

It appears that the Legislature split Daytona Beach to dilute an African-American community and the area surrounding Bethune-Cookman University specifically, which votes heavily Democratic, with the attendant goal of maintaining Republican performance in Redrawn Districts 6 and 8, Perry wrote. Quince concurred.

The ruling does not end legislators' waiting for decisions on redistricting.

A decision is pending from the U.S. Department of Justice to determine if the maps are in compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act in Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe counties.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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