Leon County Circuit Judge, Terry Lewis, ruled in July that the state Legislature illegally drew Florida’s congressional districts in 2010. Instead of performing the 10-year redistricting project based on U.S. Census numbers, the court found that the methodology used primarily was to the benefit of the Republican Party of Florida.
The state’s voters have adopted a constitutional “Fair Districts” amendment; saying legislators can no longer draw up districts through any means that favors incumbents, or a political party — a practice known as “gerrymandering”.
ON THE HOT SEAT, a Gainesville political affairs and consulting firm, Data Targeting, led by its president Pat Bainter, and associates Matt Mitchell and Michael Sheehan. The company was hired by, and is now being defended by, the Republican Party of Florida. The consultants contended that releasing the e-mail and other documents to which they were a party, violates their First Amendment rights. They have sued to keep the communications from being heard publically, even though they are already known to the court. Data Targeting and its employees are having their legal bills paid by the Republican Party of Florida.
“The Secretary of State and elections supervisors have been informed to submit a proposed schedule for a special election,” according to the court administrator. “Judge Lewis’ findings in July must be applied, and redrawn congressional districts must be voted on by August 15th.”
Not all Republicans in St Johns County are objecting to the rigorous investigation of this scandal. Historic City News editor Michael Gold, is an elected member of the St Johns County Republican Executive Committee.
“My political leanings have been conservative all of my adult life, and I was a registered Republican voter in St Johns County when it seemed that I could have counted the local party members on my fingers and toes,” Gold wrote in a statement this morning. “I know, firsthand, the evils of gerrymandered congressional districts here in our backyard — and the beneficiaries aren’t the ethnic or political party members that you would think.”
Democratic Congresswoman from Jacksonville, Corrin or Corrine, Brown; whose sprawling district winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando, has been criticized for years as one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in the nation. Brown’s district has been featured as far back as 1999 as an example of what NOT to do when redistricting.
Judge Lewis based his ruling, in part, on emails and documents obtained from the GOP political consultants, Data Targeting. The documents were turned over to the court, but, not made public as part of a pretrial agreement. The Florida Supreme Court allowed Lewis to use the evidence during the 12-day trial — if it was not discussed in open court. In doing so, the judge said that he finds the evidence shows a “conspiracy to influence and manipulate the Legislature into a violation of its constitutional duty.” So now, the high court is maneuvered into a position where it is virtually forced to re-consider whether or not the evidence should have ever been kept secret.
Brown, of course, has wrapped herself in an imaginary veil of racial discrimination, vowing to draw support from the Congressional Black Caucus, claiming that if her district had not been pieced together as it is, it would have put her black constituents at a disadvantage. The other district that is being challenged is in central Florida, and is home to U.S. Representative Dan Webster, a Republican.
Neither the Florida House nor Florida Senate are objecting to the media organizations filing of legal briefs in the case. The motion is opposed, however, by lawyers representing consulting firm Data Targeting and its employees.
Lewis ruled that there was enough evidence to show that the two districts violated the new standards. Legislative leaders have said they do not plan to appeal the decision. They have asked Lewis to let the current congressional districts remain in place for the 2014 elections, but that’s not looking too likely. Lewis ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner and local elections supervisors to come up with a new voting schedule for any districts that lawmakers would have to redraw.
News media organizations, including The Associated Press, the First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Press Association filed a motion last Monday asking to present legal briefs on the case. They are asking the Florida Supreme Court to make those e-mail and other documents available to the media and the public.
The court filing from the media organizations said the case “raises important questions about the right of access to public records in Florida: whether documents introduced into evidence and relied upon by the trial court in a proceeding attacking as unconstitutional secrecy in the redistricting process can be kept, well, secret.”
Groups suing the Legislature contended that GOP consultants helped create a “shadow” process with the intent of drawing districts to favor Republicans.