Senate Maps Head Back to Court as Coalition Releases Plan
The legal battle over the second draft of Florida’s Senate maps began in earnest Thursday, as Attorney General Pam Bondi forwarded the plans to the state Supreme Court and a coalition of voting-rights groups released a competing proposal.
Bondi’s decision to send the maps to the court is required by the Constitution, but it prompted the court to schedule oral arguments in the case for April 20. That would be about a month and a half before qualifying for legislative offices is set to begin.
The first Senate map was rejected by the court last month as “rife with objective indicators of improper intent,” including efforts to protect incumbents, under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments. If the justices reject the second plan, the Constitution calls for them to draw their own.
Meanwhile, a coalition of the League of Women Voters of Florida, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause Florida released a map they say would better follow Fair Districts, approved by voters in a November 2010 referendum.
“The Court gave the Senate a second chance, but the Senate just did exactly what it has done in every redistricting cycle — drawn districts to protect themselves and their political allies rather than protecting the voting rights of all Floridians,” said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters. of Florida. “That is why we felt compelled to propose an alternative plan.”
The coalition also left little doubt that its map was aimed at the legal arguments before the court.
“We hope that the Coalition’s alternative Senate plan will prove useful to the Court in demonstrating how a constitutional plan could and should have been drawn to comply with the Court’s,” said Peter Butzin, president of Common Cause Florida.
The coalition’s map would appear to put Democrats in striking distance of taking over the Senate. It would include 22 districts that Gov. Rick Scott won in the 2010 election, with his edge in four of those seats being less than 5 percent. His Democratic opponent, former CFO Alex Sink, would have won 18 of the districts, with an advantage of less than 5 percent in three of those.
It also contains a fourth district in Miami-Dade County with a strong Hispanic majority. Several Hispanic Republicans criticized the Senate’s plan for lacking a stronger majority in District 35, and the entire Miami-Dade delegation in the House voted against the map.
Under the coalition’s plan, the non-black Hispanic voting age population in District 35 would be just a shade under 57 percent, while the Senate plan had just less than 49 percent.
At the same time, a district in Central Florida meant to help Latinos elect a candidate of their choice would have a non-black Hispanic voting-age population of 41.1 percent, substantially lower than the 47.1 percent share of the vote in that district under the Senate plan.
The LWV plan would water down the black voting-age population in a few districts, but none of the districts with a majority or more than 40 percent of the vote would fall below those benchmarks.
Also on Thursday, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich blasted the decision by Senate Republicans to hire former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero at $695 per hour to argue the case in the court.
“Where was all this money when they cut $300 million from our universities and forced deep cuts to our hospitals?” asked Rich in a statement. “If it’s available to protect political futures, it should have been available for university students and hospital care.”
By Brandon Larrabee