TALLAHASSEE – (AP) The Florida Legislature illegally drew the state’s congressional districts to primarily benefit the Republican Party, a judge ruled Thursday as he ordered them redrawn.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said in a 41-page ruling that legislators relied on GOP political operatives who worked in secret to craft the final political maps adopted in 2012. In doing so Lewis rejected arguments from top legislative leaders that they had done nothing wrong during the process.
The ruling is not expected to disrupt this year’s elections because the Legislature is expected to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. But ultimately the changes could affect the political careers of Florida’s congressional delegation which is currently dominated by Republicans.
The landmark decision comes in the first serious test of the “Fair Districts” amendments adopted by the state’s voters in 2010. Those standards said legislators could no longer draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as “gerrymandering.”
“It’s a pretty historic ruling,” said David King, one of the attorneys who represented the coalition of groups that sued the Legislature. “It just doesn’t work to say you are open and transparent. You actually have to do it.”
A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday night that the House was reviewing the decision.by