Judge Rules G.O.P. Illegally Redrew Florida Districts
By LIZETTE ALVAREZJULY 10, 2014
TAMPA, Fla. — In a sharply worded decision, a Florida judge ruled late Thursday that Republicans illegally redrew the state’s congressional districts, saying they “made a mockery” of an amendment meant to inject fairness into a process that has long been politically tainted.
Judge Terry P. Lewis of Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit ordered that two districts be redrawn — one, the 10th District, now held by Representative Daniel Webster, a Republican, and the other, the Fifth District, held by Representative Corrine Brown, a Democrat. In redrawing them, neighboring districts are also likely to be affected.
The state is expected to appeal. The ruling, issued less than two months before Florida’s primary, is unlikely to affect this year’s elections. But if it stands it could have broad implications for the 2016 elections.
Judge Lewis delivered a blistering, 41-page attack on Florida’s redistricting process, reserving his most scathing criticism for the Republican establishment, including political operatives. He said it was clear that Republican operatives had managed to “infiltrate and influence” the Florida Legislature.
“Republican political consultants or operatives did, in fact, conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” the judge wrote. At another point, he quoted George Washington, who warned of “cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men.”
Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of Florida, said late Thursday in an e-mail that party officials were reviewing the decision and were not yet prepared to comment.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters and other groups that accused Republicans of manipulating political maps to favor their candidates.
In 2010, Floridians voted to pass two constitutional amendments that required lawmakers to draw congressional and state legislative districts more cohesively and without favoring a political party.
The maps were redrawn in 2012, before the midterm elections. They were approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.
During a two-week trial in May and June, a parade of political operatives, lawmakers and legislative staff members took the stand to testify about what they did and did not do during the redistricting process. It turned out that legislative leaders destroyed many documents relevant to the process, a move that Judge Lewis sharply criticized on Thursday.
“You have to wonder,” he said.