Judge Terry Lewis has ordered state legislators back into a special session to redraw the boundaries of two of Florida's 27 congressional districts that he ruled last month were invalid because they violated the Constitution.
The seats held by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, and Dan Webster, a Republican from Winter Garden, were drawn to benefit Republicans and were in violation of the Fair District rules approved by voters in 2010, Judge Lewis wrote. Voters groups, including CWA, had challenged the congressional maps.
Judge Lewis asked state lawmakers to fix the district maps by August 15. He said he would decide then whether and when to hold special elections to fill those seats. The rulings brought howls of protests from Brown and Webster as well as members of the legislature. It is too late in the election season to be fiddling with the district maps, they argue, adding that absentee ballots have already gone out and a special election to fill those seats would end up hurting voters that Lewis wants to protect, including African Americans.
Judge Lewis said he sympathizes and even agrees with some of their arguments but the invalid districts could not be allowed to remain.
CWA District 3 Legislative-Political coordinator Donald LaRotonda said that despite Democrats having more registered voters in the state, they have ended up with fewer offices in elected statewide positions.
"Judge Lewis' ruling is a surprise, a pleasant one," LaRotonda said. "All the years that we worked on it, it just didn't seem like it would ever come to fruition."
He was talking about the Fair District law that voters approved but that Republicans effectively thwarted in schemes that Judge Lewis finally decided were a violation of the Constitution. Brown, for instance, ended up with a serpentine district stretching from Jacksonville to Orlando, which benefitted Republicans by packing African American voters along that stretch into one district.
It gave Brown a safe seat in Congress but made several other seats in the state safe for Republican candidates. Judge Lewis said districts could have been drawn to protect minority voters without dividing whole communities and packing Republicans into adjoining districts. Brown fought, unsuccessfully, to invalidate the Fair District law.
LaRotonda said Corinne Brown is a friend of labor and that the advocates want her in office but, to make other seats in the state more competitive, this has to be done.
Redrawing district lines no matter how bizarrely in order to create safe seats is not limited to Florida. In Pennsylvania, for instance, there are 1 million plus more registered Democrats than Republican – 4.1 million Democrats to 3 million Republicans – but Democrats have only five out of the state's 18 Congressional seats.
In Michigan about 40 percent of voters identify as Democrats and 33 percent as Republicans. Yet of the current Michigan members of Congress, nine are Republicans and five are Democrats.