Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave the Florida House and Senate, and the two groups of redistricting challengers, until the end of the day on Monday to submit their proposals for him to choose from when he recommends Florida’s final congressional districts map.
At a 30-minute hearing, the Tallahassee judge approved in concept a proposal that would also require that anyone who submits a map to disclose who drew it, why they drew the lines they choose and how it comports to the constitutional guidelines in Florida’s Fair Districts law.
He is likely to receive four maps — one each from the House and Senate and one each from the two plaintiffs groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause and the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs.
The Florida Supreme Court last week ordered Lewis to choose between the maps after the Legislature ended its special session in August without an agreement on a map. The court said that Lewis must accept proposals from the parties and choose among them to recommend which of them most adheres to the July 9 ruling that set guidelines for lawmakers to follow when redrawing the map.
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The court invalidated the map after concluding that a shadow redistricting process conducted by Republican political operatives was done to infiltrate the drawing of the Legislature’s maps in violation of the constitutional ban on favoring incumbents and political parties. The congressional map approved by lawmakers gave Republicans a 17-10 advantage over Democrats in Florida’s 27 congressional districts, including only two seats that are considered competitive.
The lawyers for the House and Senate, along with the plaintiffs the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, told Lewis they were prepared to submit their maps Friday. But John Devaney, a lawyer for a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs, said he would like until Monday for his group to submit an alternative map.
“It’s not going to have huge changes from what the House has already done, I think,” he told the court.
George Meros, attorney for the House of Representatives, objected and accused Devaney attempting to gain an unfair advantage by hiding their map drawers when the court ordered the House and Senate to operate in a transparent way by disclosing who drew their maps but said that discovery could not be taken in the trial.
It is “beyond outrageous” they don’t have to identify a “a right to draw a map in darkness with malintent and by virtue of not having to have any discovery,” he said. “To say they can hide their map drawers is fundamentally unfair.”
Lewis ordered that everyone will have to abide by the same disclosure requirements as the Legislature but agreed to give everyone until Monday to do it.
The House, which wants its map approved by the court, has raised concerns that the Senate may not have recorded all the discussions between senators about the variations in the proposed Senate maps.
After the maps are submitted, the court would give the parties a week to review them and write a memo challenging the constitutionality of any district. Each party will also have to disclose their lists of expert witnesses and exhibits before trial.
Lewis last month set Sept. 24-28 as the trial dates for him to review the map approved by the Legislature. When the Legislature ended its special session without an agreement on a map, the court tasked Lewis with the job of determining which of the plans best adheres to the guidelines the court laid out for how the new map must be redrawn.
Lewis said he hopes to review the maps before trial and do his homework. “My guess is, we’ll be ready to see you at the end of the month,” he said.