TALLAHASSEE -- In a major victory for Florida's Republican-led Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court on Friday validated the redrawn map of the 40-member Florida Senate, allowing the boundaries to serve as the political borders for the next 10 years.
In its unanimous opinion, the court noted that opponents, the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting groups including the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida, "failed to demonstrate that the revised Senate plan as a whole or with respect to any individual district violates Florida's constitutional requirements."
Justices E.C. Perry and Peggy Quince, the court's black justices, each dissented on the portion of the map that includes Volusia County, suggesting that that area unfairly divides black voters.
Justice Barbara Pariente, the author of the March 9 opinion that invalidated the Senate's first map as "rife with indicators of improper intent" concurred with the majority but issued her own opinion.
She said the new Fair Districts amendments "engrafted new and expansive standards onto an old constitutional framework unsuited for such inquiry." She said the barriers now "appear to prevent the will of the voters from being fully realized."
"Because the Court‘s inquiry has greatly expanded with the passage of the Fair Districts Amendment, including an examination of legislative intent in drawing the district lines, the time limitations in our current constitutional framework are no longer suitable,'' Pariente wrote. "Working within a strict time period, this Court is realistically not able to remand for fact-finding, which creates concerns that are compounded by the fact that the Court is constrained to the legislative record that is provided to it."
She strongly urged the Legislature and future Constitutional Revision Commissions to consider revising the time schedule that makes it impossible for the court to adequately analyze the maps in 30 days. She also urged them to reconsider the "intent" definitions of the amendment.
The ruling now sets the stage for candidates for both the House and Senate to proceed with the districts as law.
The process is not complete, however. The U.S. Department of Justice must determine that the maps do not violate the federal Voting Rights Act requirements and protects minority voting rights in five counties with a history of discrimination: Monroe, Hendry, Hillsborough, Collier and Hardee.