A Limit to Partisan Gerrymandering the Sunshine State

It probably won’t matter until 2016, but Florida Republicans got a shock yesterday when a state judge declared the pro-Republican congressional districting plan put in place by the legislature prior to the 2012 elections in violation of Florida’s “Fair Districts” constitutional provision limiting gerrymanders.

Circuit judge Terry Lewis (who gained national renown during the legal maneuverings in Florida in 2000) ruled that two districts (those occupied by Democrat Corrine Brown and Republican Daniel Webster) violated the “compactness” rule for districts as set out in a successful 2010 ballot initiative. But since the districts cannot be redrawn in isolation, that means the entire map is invalid, and Democrats believe a rewrite would likely reduce the GOP’s 17-10 margin in House seats in the state. Because it’s so late in the 2014 cycle, any implementation of the order (which of course will be appealed to the Florida Supreme Court) would have to happen after the November elections.

In his decision Judge Lewis extensively discussed evidence that Republican legislators drew the map with bad intent, and regularly conferred with Republican consultants on how to maximize Republican seats.

We don’t know if the order will be upheld on appeal, and if it stands it has no value as precedent outside Florida since it’s being decided on state constitutional grounds. But still, it’s a rare blow to partisan gerrymandering, and since Florida is just one of a number of states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin also come to mind) where Republicans have consolidated an unrepresentative hold on House seats, it’s a reminder of why it’s important to control state legislatures.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.