The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government. It influences public policy through education and advocacy.
-Background on how we got to where we are today When the League was first formed in Florida 76 years ago, gerrymandered districts and the need for redistricting was one of the first issues identified as an issue for League to study and begin work on... Since that time, we have been working on resolving what was one of the MOST gerrymandered states in the country.
Finally in 2008, we composed 2 citizen initiative constitutional ballot amendments with a coalition of other organizations, mainly Common Cause and Democracia, called Fair Districts. One ballot amendment was for congressional redistricting standards, the other for state House and Senate standards. The standards were the same for each...in summary "that districts had to be drawn that were contiguous, compact, use natural geographic boundaries and borders and, most importantly, to not benefit one political party over another." The purpose of these amendments, known as amendments 5 and 6, was to finally give constitutional mandates to our legislature who drew these new districts every 10 years following the census results. Up to this point in time, our legislature had absolutely NO guidelines, which were resulting in them drawing districts that benefited them and their jobs. This occurred when Democrats were in power and when Republicans were in power. It was the quintessential "fox guarding the hen house". Our legislators were drawing districts choosing their voters, rather than drawing districts where voters had a choice of choosing their representative. They were protecting their jobs.
For 2 years, we collected petitions, over 1.6 million, 800,000 for each amendment, and got both amendments on the ballot in 2010. They passed by 63% with over 3.1 million voters saying YES!
Our legislature and Governor began fighting these amendments from day one. League continued to push back with litigation and education and advocacy. Our Florida Editorial Boards all endorsed the implementation of these standards and were a strong ally. Finally, coming into 2012, the redistricting year, our leaders said, "The will of the people has been heard. This cycle of redistricting will be the MOST transparent and open in Florida's history. And will follow the letter of the law."
Sadly, the resulting maps, with the exception of the State House maps, were not even close. More litigation led by LWVFlorida began.
-Recent litigation Last year, we concentrated on the congressional maps and brought our case to the Circuit Court in Tallahassee. Judge Terry Lewis was presiding. We were aware of the poorly drawn maps and that the process had not been followed, but what our legal team laid out in the course of 5 days of testimony read like a Carl Hiassan or James Patterson novel. Political operatives exchanging late night emails and deleting them. Secret meetings to plan maps for their benefit and then having them submitted by what was supposed to be an objective student from a Florida university. Good old boy comments in emails and vacation trips together gleefully proud of themselves thwarting this new system. It was disgusting, embarrassing, and egregious finger flicking to the people of Florida and the constitution.
Judge Lewis ruled in our favor and mandated that the legislature come back into special session to remedy the maps. The legislature reconvened last August for 3 days...yes, 3 days to complete this task. Again, secret meetings....no transparency. Florida was headed into a primary election and a general election in November. The clock was ticking and without congressional maps, the election cycle would surely have been changed at a costly rate to Florida and confusion for our voters.
Judge Lewis accepted the redrawn maps. And elections went on as planned. But, we did not give up. We appealed this decision to the highest court, the Florida Supreme Court. Our case was heard in March of last year and we anxiously awaited their decision.
-Thursday July 9, 2015 The Florida Supreme Court ruled in our favor on all counts! We had argued that 8 congressional districts were unlawful. Districts 5 and 13 were at the top of the list, followed by 14, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27. They agreed and mandated that those 8 had to be redrawn....and that any district that was affected by the movement of those 8, must ALSO be redrawn. Suggested maps were entered into the court's records by our counsel, but they do not necessarily mean that the court has to follow those specific maps in their redrawing. In essence, the strong likelihood that almost the entire state's congressional map of 27 districts will be changed to follow the mandates of amendments 5 and 6. Additionally, the court requested that ALL meetings and material be open to the public, recorded and filed back to them. Also, that a trial be held upon completion of the maps for both sides to argue their positions. And that, finally, the maps come back to the Supreme Court for final approval. The Court mandated that all of this be completed in 100 days, or by October, 17, 2015.
The Florida Supreme Court took our legislature to the woodshed where they belonged for their egregious behavior. And they are keeping them on a short leash to finally get this done right.
As of this writing, there has been no response from the legislature on their plans or timeline for a special session.
On July 16, one week after the Supreme Court ruling, Judge Reynolds in Tallahassee, laid out a tighter timeline mandating that by next Wed July 22, both sides have their plan and timeline submitted to the court. He also mandated that the new maps AND the trial for both sides to argue their positions on the new maps be completed by September 25. This will leave about 3 weeks for the Supreme Court to then review the resulting maps and render their decision.
Another important date to keep in mind in all of this, is that we begin a NEW case in circuit court on the SENATE maps on September 25. Much of the same egregious behavior will again be repeated in our case against the legislature on these maps as it was in the congressional map case.
-What Can the Supreme Court do if our legislature fails again? This is a really good lesson in American Civics. Checks and balances among the branches of our government worked in that the Judiciary branch "checked" the Legislature's unconstitutional behavior, set strict guidelines, will oversee, and if necessary, take over the task of drawing maps.
The Supreme Court will hopefully accept the maps because they will be done correctly. However, if they are not, the Court may:
-Assign a Master to draw the maps. This was done in New York when their legislature failed to draw maps and the congressional districts that exist there today are a result of this method.
-Review every map that has been submitted throughout this entire process and choose one of them
-Open the process for submittal of new maps by the public.
-What impact does the Federal Supreme Court decision on redistricting commissions have, if any, on Florida? That decision released 3 weeks ago is a big win for all of the states battling redistricting with their legislature. The decision states simply that redistricting does NOT have to be the sole responsibility of a state's legislature. An objective redistricting commission is a viable alternative. Currently 21 states utilize some form of nonpartisan/bipartisan redistricting commissions.
Florida could implement a commission 3 ways:
-Our legislature proposing it and placing it on the ballot.
-The Constitutional Commission review in 2017 before legislative session could place it as an amendment
-A citizen initiative, could work to place it on the ballot most probably in 2018.
-What about the request from Congressional representatives to hold public hearings around the state to gain public opinion and input before maps are drawn? The League consistently supports public input, transparency in government process and civic engagement. However, the clear guidelines of the Supreme Court opinion did not include this as a proposed part of the necessary legislative process. We support the court's guidelines of public meetings and complete filing of all records and communications related to the redistricting process, but feels that the timeline is not sufficient for appropriate traveling statewide hearings. A schedule of special legislative session and trial is the priority of meetings to meet the court deadline.
This provides a very brief synopsis of this issue. Any and all of this paper may be used for press background or comment by local League presidents. Also, we encourage the writing of letters to the editors or "My Word" pieces with facts taken from this paper. This is a good time to have a Hot Topics Redistricting "Update" for your members and/or include it in your Voter. This paper may be posted on your web site and on Facebook page. The public needs to understand what all the front page stories really mean! Or please continue to refer press questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-843-1233. Any questions regarding litigation that are not answered in this synopsis, please ALWAYS refer to me first! We are NOT commenting on any specific maps or districts that have been presented in litigation. It is in the Court's hands at this point.
Two additional comments: This is a moving target...we will continue to update you as they occur, so stay tuned!
This week, Wed. July 22, is the deadline for schedules of special session and trial to be presented in court.
Finally, NONE of this, I mean NONE...could have been accomplished without YOU! I truly believe that each and every one of our members had a piece of this...whether you got a petition signed, spoke to 100 groups or mentioned it to your neighbor or fellow worker... This important issue is why the League exists today stronger and smarter than ever before!
In League, Pam
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