Groups slam Senate map in court filings
By BRANDON LARRABEE, THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE -- Opponents of the Legislature's second draft of a new map for the state's 40 Senate districts tore into the plan in legal briefs filed Tuesday, telling justices that the lines passed by the Legislature in last month's extraordinary session are no better than the plan justices tossed days earlier.
The Florida Democratic Party, the state NAACP and a coalition of voting rights groups all filed separate briefs criticizing the Senate plan and calling for the Supreme Court to draw its own maps. If the new proposals are invalidated, the Constitution requires justices to approve a new map instead.
"In fact, it was the intent of the framers ... that, when needed, the Court be the final guardian of the citizens' rights to a fair redistricting plan, and one that complies with the constitutional standards," the Democratic Party said in its brief. "In 2012, that time has come."
In all, the groups challenged 17 of the 40 districts for bizarre shapes, watering down a minority ethnic or racial group's share of the population or carving out special protections for incumbents.
If proven, any of those allegations could make the map unconstitutional under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments approved by voters in a November 2010 referendum.
The NAACP, which did not vigorously contest the first Senate plan, said in its brief that the second draft would harm the ability of black voters to elect the candidates of their choice in a Duval County district and a part of Broward County.
While the Supreme Court praised a similar Duval County district in its 5-2 ruling striking down the first Senate plan, the NAACP said there wasn't enough evidence to support the notion that either district would give black voters a chance to shape elections there.
"Without such evidence, approving these districts is simply gambling on the future ability of minority voters to participate in the political process," the NAACP wrote.
Meanwhile, a coalition of voting rights groups that includes the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause of Florida and Hispanic advocacy group National Council of La Raza said the plan went out of its way to make sure that every incumbent who didn't face term limits would have a seat to run for without moving.
"This Court gave the Legislature a second chance to comply with the will of the voters and the Legislature again failed," the groups' brief says. "Unable to help itself, the Legislature persisted in its pursuit of partisan gain and incumbent self-interest."
The coalition urged the Supreme Court to consider an alternative draft of the map, released by the groups last week, as the model for a future plan.
Democrats submitted a plan Tuesday that would give Republicans a more narrow advantage in the Senate and perhaps put the minority party within striking distance of taking the chamber.
Under the Democrats' plan, Republican Gov. Rick Scott would have won 23 districts in 2010; former CFO Alex Sink would have won 17.
But Scott would have won four of those districts by less than five points, while Sink would have won three districts by a relatively narrow margin. If Democrats were to sweep the competitive seats, they could narrowly eke out a majority.
The Democratic map would also pair Democratic Sens. Maria Sachs of Boca Raton and Jeremy Ring of Margate in a district and force Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, to run against Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale.
The Democrats' map does not contain a fourth strongly Hispanic seat in Miami-Dade County; some Hispanic lawmakers have said a federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act is likely if such a seat, which is also absent in the Senate majority's plan, isn't carved out.
The court ruled late Tuesday that the Florida Senate could file a brief of up to 100 pages after lawyers for the chamber said the 50-page limit imposed by the court wasn't enough for them to make their case.