The Florida Supreme Court on Friday ordered the trial court to return to the redistricting drawing board, allowing it to review the rival maps submitted by the House and Senate and choose between them.
The court rejected a request by the plaintiffs to take over the drawing of the congressional map after a two-week special session of the Legislature in August ended without an enacted map.
But the high court opened the door to the state Senate’s request to conduct another special session on redistricting, as long as the work is completed by the deadline the court set in July — Oct. 17.
The ruling orders Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis to hold a hearing on the “proposed remedial plans” from both the House and the Senate, as well as any amendments offered to them.
“However, the Legislature is not precluded from enacting a remedial plan prior to the time the trial court sets for the hearing,” the court added.
The ruling was signed by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and J.C. Perry. Justice Charles Canady, the most outspoken critic of the court’s previous redistricting rulings, concurred in most of the decision but dissented in the part that said the trial court may not accept new evidence. Justice Ricky Polston concurred.
The court repeated its position that the “the burden remains on the House and Senate to justify their chosen configurations” and said that the final plan will be a permanent map, not an interim one as the House suggested.
It ordered the trial court to recommend before Oct. 17 the map that “best fulfills the specific directions in the Court’s July 9, 2015, opinion and all constitutional requirements.”
“Sufficient time exists for the Legislature to accomplish this task before the matter is scheduled for a hearing before the trial court, should the House and Senate agree to convene for another special session,” Labarga wrote in his concurring opinion. “However, if the two houses of the Legislature cannot join together to pass a plan within this time, the judiciary must take steps to ensure that a constitutionally compliant congressional redistricting plan is in place, as noted in the order and requested in the House’s motion, to provide certainty to candidates and voters.”
After the ruling, Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, renewed his call for another special session to agree to a “unified” map with the House. He had previously requested a meeting with House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, to discuss convening a special session to discuss the alternate map offered by Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, last week.
Crisafulli has not responded to Gardiner’s call for another session. He said in a statement Friday that they are “reviewing the order to determine our next steps.”
Galvano’s map began what appears to be a softening of relations between the feuding chambers. A week after the Legislature dissolved its special session with no resolution, Galvano offered what he called a “compromise” map that attempts to appease many of the concerns the House had with the Senate’s final map. The next day, House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva responded in a letter to House members that the Senate map had promise.
“If the Senate had offered an amendment like the map filed by Chairman Galvano yesterday afternoon, that map would have been given serious consideration,” wrote Oliva, R-Miami Lakes.
House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach said that the public has been “let down by past leadership acting to pervert the process.”
“The court’s order today makes clear the justices are merely picking up the slack created by the abdication of the Legislature and recognize their involvement is only a last resort,” he said in a statement.
David King, the lead lawyer for the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, which challenged the congressional map, said they appreciated the court’s guidance “and look forward to appearing before Judge Lewis to ensure that Florida’s citizens have a constitutionally compliant congressional map for 2016.”
Next, it will be up to the trial court to set the schedule and give lawmakers a new deadline for providing him with a joint map if they agree to a special session.
Mary Ellen Klas is the Miami Herald bureau chief. Reach her at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and follower her @MaryEllenKlas