Florida Supreme Court Justices Reject Senate Redistricting Plan

Associated Press (AP) -- The Florida Supreme Court rejected the state Senate's redistricting plan for the next 10 years but upheld the House's map in a 5-2 opinion issued Friday.
The two dissenting justices said they would have upheld both maps drafted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The court said eight Senate districts are unconstitutional as well as the chamber's changes in assigning numbers to districts because that favors certain incumbents.
The ruling sends the Senate map back to the Legislature so it can be redrawn to conform with the high court's interpretation of a new state constitutional amendment designed to curtail gerrymandering.
Democrats, three nonpartisan groups that backed the Fair Districts amendment and one like it for congressional seats alleged the legislative maps violated the new restrictions including a ban on intentionally drawing districts to favor or disfavor incumbents and political parties.
The plan's opponents alleged the maps would let the GOP maintain two-to-one majorities in both the House and Senate although Florida's voter registration and voting patterns are almost equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The amendments also protect minority voting rights and require that maps be compact and follow political or geographic boundaries whenever feasible.
Lawyers for the Legislature argued that both maps fully complied with the amendment and urged the justices to conduct only a limited review while allowing opponents to challenge specifics at the trial court level. The majority rejected that argument.
Democrats and the three Fair Districts groups -- the Florida League of Women Voters, National Council of La Raza and Common Cause -- already have filed separate Circuit Court lawsuits in Tallahassee challenging the congressional map, which does not get an automatic Supreme Court review. No hearings have yet been set in those cases.
Republicans currently have a 19-6 edge in Florida's congressional delegation. The new map adds two more seats due to population growth for a total of 27.
The GOP also has majorities of 28-12 in the Senate and 81-38 in the House with one district vacant due to the recent resignation of Democratic former Rep. Paul Steinberg of Miami Beach after he admitted sending suggestive and harassing text messages to a female federal prosecutor.
The high court had 30 days through Sunday to complete its review after Attorney General Pam Bondi submitted the plan on Feb. 10.
AP-WF-03-09-12 1538GMT

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