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Florida Ruling Is A Primer On Redistricting Chicanery

Florida Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia examines a map of proposed changes in congressional districts in January 2012.
Chris O'Meara
Florida Republican state Sen. Rene Garcia examines a map of proposed changes in congressional districts in January 2012.

If you have some time over the weekend or need a break from the endless LeBron James coverage, you could peruse the highly readable opinion by a Florida judge who invalidated some of the redistricting efforts by the state's Republican Legislature.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis found compelling evidence of chicanery in how the lines of two Florida congressional districts were redrawn — the 5th District, represented by Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown, and the 10th District, held by Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican.

The decision wasn't a complete loss for the GOP-led Legislature: Lewis ruled that the plaintiffs failed to prove that several other districts violated the state constitution.

What makes Lewis' opinion such fun reading for students of politics is his highlighting of how political operatives sought to leave no fingerprints of their efforts to influence the redistricting maps. This isn't the judge's first brush with political controversy: He is among the Florida judges who heard cases in the epic Bush v. Gore presidential election fight of 2000.

One technique Lewis discusses was how Republican political consultants, told that they wouldn't "have a seat at the redistricting table" by GOP lawmakers and aides, still managed to get what they wanted. They did it by using the old Astroturf technique of sending in front groups.

"What is clear to me from the evidence," Lewis wrote, "is that this group of Republican political consultants or operatives did conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process. They did this by writing scripts for and organizing groups of people to advocate the adoption of certain components or characteristics in the map, and by submitting maps and partial maps through the public process, all with the intention of obtaining enacted maps for the State House and Senate and for Congress that would favor the Republican Party."

The judge does say, however, he found no evidence that the lawmakers and aides were in cahoots with the consultants.

Because this case involves congressional redistricting, Lewis gets into the minutiae of political mapmaking. For instance, he notes that the map for the "bizarrely shaped" 5th District violates state law by, among other things, narrowing so much at one point that only state Highway 17 lies within it.

He also found that the 2012 redistricting used line-drawing contortions to join two African-American areas in creating the new district, even though that particular area didn't meet federal and state requirements for doing so. Lewis concluded that this "was done with the intent of benefiting the Republican Party" since it presumably made other areas more favorable to Republican candidates.

The case is far from over; it's expected that the Florida Supreme Court will weigh in at some point, then the federal courts.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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