Cheers, political jabs, and more mockery came this week as the legislative Republicans asked the court to draw the Senate maps instead of having a five-day trial next month. They argued that any map they will submit will automatically be on trial and because there was not clear factors to consider like the Congressional maps (because the Senate went ahead and admitted wrong-doing instead of a trial), there was no way they could absolute themselves. While the court dismissed the motion on Friday afternoon, this option will probably resurface as the trail continues. And it is likely part of a pointed strategy to take time off the clock.
While the Republicans are taking plenty of political punches for their handling of redistricting, in all likelihood the bruises will be long faded by the 2016 election. For the most part, the presidential race has dominated the political news realm and little attention is being paid to the redistricting fight outside party insiders. While it did not make the Florida GOP look good, it is not going to be enough to sway voters. It simply is not a huge issue to the average voter. Republicans have not lost any political momentum due to this fight and quite possibly have gained some by constantly attacking the court. So there are few negatives for them on the table
From the different maps, there are varying degrees of consequences and winners, but the Democrats will gain a few seats. One even has a 20-20 split. It will be interesting to see which one the court chooses, but it will probably just spark another political court battle, pushing the clock back more.
But in all of this, someone needs to state the obvious – it is becoming less and less likely that the Senate map will be ready by the 2016 election.
Even if a map is chosen in December as a result of the court case, there will almost undoubtedly be a legal challenge. With the Congressional maps in similar limbo, the path forward is murky at best. Time is running out. If this battle continues for just another month or two, there is a strong argument that there will not be time to implement them in time.
Even if the Supreme Court decides to hand it over to the “special master,” there is no automatic legal structure for just handing it to the courts with regards to Fair Districts. While the courts have drawn the maps in the past, it was without the added legal battles that this fight has had and there is a lot undefined about the Fair Districts Amendment. There is no official legal definition of what “Fair Districts” means – is that competitive districts? Equal number of Ds and Rs? A computer program? There is a lot for the court to interpret. Coming up with a solution is going to take time and unless a map can be produced quickly, the clock is going to run out unless these matters are decided quickly.
Here’s what the Republicans stand to gain if they continue with this ‘push back the clock’ strategy:
- avoiding a slew of messy races, including the potential showdown between Senator Jack Latvala and Senator Jeff Brandes, as neither will actually have to run (because only odd numbered Senate seats will).
- enjoying a super-majority in the Senate the last two years of Rick Scott’s term.
- with no swing Senate seats on the board, the GOP can concentrate on the Senate race to replace Rubio and hopefully turning Florida red for which-ever presidential candidate they decide upon. This also frees up resources to play defense against the few house seats which may turn blue.
- the longer this fight plays on, the more ammunition accumulates for more legislation to control the courts. Many legislators are posting about dictating policy through the courts and we have already seen a drastic rise in proposed bills that look toward the courts. This could be a tipping point that could lead to limiting the role of the courts.
There is a lot on the table to win if Republicans can just play their cards right. With little hope of any of their maps moving forward due to climate and infighting, this was the closest thing to a win-win situation that the GOP was going to get. With the court re-drawing the maps, more than likely all Senators will face election in 2018. Even if the Democrats gain a few more competitive seats on the map, they will face a midterm election, which so far has been a disaster for Democratic candidates. With a huge advantage in just sheer timing, having all Senators elected in 2018 will still favor Republicans. All the Republican have to do is to delay the maps a little bit more.
While there are a few comparisons between this and the 1992 debacle where the courts also had to draw the maps, there are many different elements at play here. As a consequence of the 1992 redistricting by the courts, the heavily-gerrymandered Democratic seats were moderated and the Republicans managed to gain both the Senate and the House in two cycles, drastically changing Florida and giving the Republicans a hold on the state government that continues today. While some speculate that this redistricting fight could do the same for the Democrats, the chances are slim. At the time, the Republicans were aggressively moving into state houses across the nation. There was a strong up and coming class of politicians ready to take-over Tallahassee and enough institutional force to propel Republicans to maximize the advantages of this new map. The Democrats lack these advantages, as state houses continue to be ignored by national political forces. There is no bench of Democrats to take over and there are little resources to line up behind Democrats.
Overall, asking the courts to take over may be one of the best decisions Republicans can make in the redistricting fight. Until more statues are passed to define “Fair Districts” and establish guidelines for following the Amendment, this battle is far from over.