Judge orders new congressional map in Florida by Aug. 15

(Map via Wonkblog)
(Map via Wonkblog)

Updated at 5:51 p.m.

A Florida judge told state lawmakers Friday to draw new congressional lines by Aug. 15, opening the door to the possibility of holding elections in 2014 under a new map.

In a six-page ruling, Circuit Judge Terry P. Lewis raised the idea of pushing back the Nov. 4 general election to allow enough time for an election with different district lines.

"Under the circumstances before me, I believe the law requires that I at least consider the possibility," he said in his ruling.

Political scientist Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert, said Lewis's decision brought the remote possibility of elections this year with new districts closer to becoming reality.

"The odds just went up that we are going to have an election under a new map in 2014," he said.

At issue is the map Republicans drew after 2010 Census data were released. That map was struck down by Lewis in July. The judge ruled that two of the state's 27 districts were drawn in violation of an amendment to the state constitution adopted to curb gerrymandering.

Republicans vowed not to appeal that ruling and agreed to draw a new map. But they urged the judge to ensure that any changes would not affect the 2014 elections, citing military and overseas ballots that had already gone out ahead of the Aug. 26 primary.

Lewis declined to make any such assurances Friday, handing at least temporary victory to Democratic-aligned groups that sought changes as soon as possible.

"Well, I guess if I had to say it in one word it's huge," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the the League of Women Voters of Florida, one of the plaintiffs the case. "It's a victory for Florida voters and we are thrilled."

A spokeswoman for state Senate President Don Gaetz (R) said he is reviewing the ruling. Lewis said lawmakers must draft a new map quickly to determine whether it is feasible to implement the changes this year. If oral argument is merited, that will happen Aug. 20.

"It is necessary to get a revised map in place and for me to consider additional evidence as to the legal and logistical obstacles to holding delayed elections for affected districts in 2014," he said.

The 5th and 10th districts, represented respectively by Reps. Corrine Brown (D) and Daniel Webster (R), run afoul of a Fair Districts amendment passed in 2010, Lewis ruled. Republicans made a "mockery" of professed transparency when they drew the Central Florida districts, he said.

McDonald, the political scientist, said changes to those lines could affect several nearby districts. The possibility of elections under an altered map this year could also throw campaign plans into disarray.

"If I was running a campaign in those districts, I wouldn't know where to go to campaign right now," said McDonald.

Brown, who is African American, benefits from the map, which packs many minority voters -- who tend to vote Democratic -- into her district instead of spreading them more evenly among several of them.

She said in a statement that Lewis’ "ruling this morning to call the legislature back into session and force a redrawing of Florida’s congressional maps with such a short timetable is certainly not in the best interests of Florida voters."

Brown added that "the maps in question before the judge were already approved in a bipartisan fashion in the state legislature, and were only approved after numerous statewide hearings on the maps, which allowed for input from all interested parties on the makeup of the district lines."

Republicans control 17 of the state's 27 districts.

You can read the judge's entire ruling below.

Romo v. Detzner

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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