TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed off Wednesday on new maps that will alter several congressional districts in the state, but it doesn’t appear the changes will end the legal tussle over them.
Scott approved a new map that was agreed to just two days earlier by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The map will be presented to a Florida judge who ruled that the state’s current congressional map included districts that were illegally drawn to help the GOP. Judge Terry Lewis had given legislators until Aug. 15 to come up with a valid map.
But the groups that challenged the existing map said they will ask Lewis to reject the one approved by this week. The judge has a hearing scheduled for next week to go over the revised districts.
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Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said the new map “looks suspiciously like the map” that had previously been ruled unconstitutional.
She also faulted lawmakers because the proposal ultimately approved was initially drawn up in closed-door meetings between two top GOP legislators, attorneys and legislative staff.
“The Legislature continues to make a mockery of the process, destroying public trust and confidence in our democracy,” Macnab said in a statement. “Until the Legislature can restore that trust, Floridians must continue to look to the courts to hold lawmakers accountable.”
The new map approved this week reshapes the boundaries of seven of the state’s 27 congressional districts. The districts are located in central and north Florida.
Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party, a practice known as “gerrymandering.” A coalition of groups, including the League of Women Voters, contended the GOP consultants used a “shadow” process in 2012 to draw districts that benefited Republicans and violated the new standards.
Lewis agreed there was enough evidence to show that consultants helped manipulate the process and ruled that two districts were invalid. The two districts flagged by Lewis are a sprawling district that stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando and is held by U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, a Democrat, and a central Florida district held by U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, a Republican.
The new map alters those two districts somewhat, but also changes the boundaries for five other districts. Two GOP held districts, for example, would become slightly more Democratic, but the swing is not that significant. Republicans currently hold a 17-10 edge in the state’s congressional delegation and the new map may not change that. The League and the groups that sued had suggested that legislators shift Brown’s district away from central Florida and into north Florida.
Legislative leaders contend the new map was drawn up free of partisan influence and complies with Lewis’s rulings. House Speaker Will Weatherford defended the initial closed-door meetings because legislators had to condense their normal process in order to comply with the deadlines imposed by the judge.
“We had to work on a map that we believe addressed the legal concerns that Judge Lewis had and that’s what we did,” Weatherford said Monday.