FL Supreme Court does the right thing in redistricting case

pariente-quince-lewis-court

The Florida Supreme Court — sometimes derided as a highly partisan jurisprudential backwater — deserves immense credit for keeping our much-mocked home state mostly decent of late.

In December it issued a thoughtful opinion establishing  a proper balance between constitutional principle and the popular will when it took up a pair of redistricting cases known by their catchy formal names of The League of Women Voters of Florida, et al. v. The Florida House of Representatives, et al. and Rene Romo, et al. v. The Florida House of Representatives, et al., respectively.

For most of us, passage of the “Fair Districts” amendments was about the only bit of good news on election night 2010 and a welcome intervention in the ongoing saga of malapportionment in Florida. But since the 63-37 adoption of this badly-needed reform, Republicans in Tallahassee[1] have done their best to make a self-fulfilling prophesy of their “government doesn’t work” dogma by waging a three-year legal battle against their own constituents.

After the results of the 2010 Census both houses of the legislature issued maps that blatantly disregarded the new constitutional requirement that prohibits districts “drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”[2] When voters’ rights groups duly challenged the maps in court, GOP legislators used an extensive and expensive array of lawyers and expert witnesses to argue the maps they drew did not consider political advantage for their own party, which argument insults any objective observer, plus to prevent citizens or the courts from viewing the texts of correspondence they had with political consultants during the redistricting process for good measure.

The state Supreme Court finally put the worst of this protracted litigation to bed last month by rendering a decision that at once finally brings Florida in line with 43 other states that recognize a legislative privilege[3] and at the same time makes it clear that this privilege is not a shroud for legislators to move against the people in secret. Against the members’ charge that a coerced disclosure of the maps and documents considered during redistricting would have a “chilling effect” on legislative freedom, Justice Pariente brilliantly replies that “this type of ‘chilling effect’ was the precise purpose of the constitutional amendment outlawing partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent.”

Judicial intervention has been a major theme in modern Florida political history from the U.S. Supreme Court’s stunning decision to strike down our entire state constitution as violative of the “one man, one vote” principle in 1967 to last week’s circuit court rejection of Governor Scott’s cruel drug testing regime for people on welfare, to say nothing of Bush v. Gore. Amid growing cynicism about American courts, today I am grateful that there are still juridical guardians of the public interest down here.

[1] And the occasional Corrine Brown, whose “majority-minority” district is threatened by these reforms. The merits of minority-access districts as a Civil Rights issue are debatable and I can understand her involvement in with this lawsuit which, otherwise, is patently self-serving.

[2] F.L. Const. art. III, § 20

[3] “[N]ot with the intention of protecting the members against prosecutions for their own benefit, but to support the rights of the people, by enabling their representatives to execute the functions of their office without fear of prosecutions,” Steven F. Huefner, The Neglected Value of the Legislative Privilege in State Legislatures, 45 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 221 (2003)


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5 comments

  1. Want to get rid of blatant gerrymandering, double the size of the Florida House.

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  2. […] FL Supreme Court does the right thing in redistricting case | The … […]

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  3. Shaharazade · · Reply

    5hank Goodness, they “did the right thing”.

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  4. […] Romo, et al. v. The Florida House of Representatives, et al., Florida Supreme Court cases we’ve written about before, establish a principle of legislative privilege seen in most other states, not even that could […]

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  5. […] offered us a stark reminder of what’s at stake in the 2014 Governor’s race when they again did the right thing and allowed the League of Women voters and other plaintiffs in the ongoing reapportionment case to […]

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