Supremes Approve Coaltion Congressional Map: What Comes Next?

Dec 4, 2015

Florida's Supreme Court has ruled on congressional maps.
Credit Nick Evans

The Florida Supreme Court has released its opinion, upholding a congressional map drawn by a coalition of voting rights organizations.  But while the justices may be looking for finality, there’s plenty of uncertainty ahead.

On the first page of the Supreme Court’s opinion, Justice Pariente—writing for the majority—says the finding “should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting.”  That wrangling has stretched out over the past four years and it’s brought forth eight Supreme Court opinions.  But one thing is certain: this decision is far from final.

“I will be going to the federal court house,” Congresswoman Corinne Brown (D-FL5) said rom the steps of the court just after November’s oral arguments, “because there is no justice and there will be no peace.”

“We’ll go all the way to the United States Supreme Court,” she went on.  “Not a word about District Five.  Yes there is regression—it is obvious.”

At the start of this fight Brown’s district was at the center of debate, and she’s opposed changing it from the beginning.  She’s launching a voting rights challenge in federal court alleging the new map will diminish the ability of African Americans to elect a candidate of their choice. 

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-FL24) says she will join her, and shortly after the designation ceremony for future state Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart), the Florida Senate’s redistricting chair Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) floated the idea of joining up too.

“There’s still the federal issue that’s out there,” he said, “there’s potential for the legislature to participate in the federal forum, and we’ll make some decisions.”

But his House counterpart, Jose Oliva (R-Miami), was a bit skeptical of joining the challenge.

“I don’t foresee the Speaker going in that direction,” Oliva said, “but I certainly can tell you we will watch attentively”

But not everyone is upset with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“I believe that yesterday’s decision was landmark, and more importantly, historic,” Florida League of Women Voters President Pamela Goodman says.  Her organization is one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“It’s been a long a battle,” she continues, “and once again it all started with the implementation of Amendments Five and Six, and the 3.1 million voters that enshrined that in our constitution.”

“If we did not have those standards to abide by” Goodman says, “for both the Legislature to attempt to draft their maps by and for the coalition plaintiffs to, we would not be where we are today.”

If the new borders remain in place, the state’s congressional delegation is likely in for an overhaul, but not in terms of party balance—Democrats seem likely to pick up just one extra seat.  Congressman Dan Webster (R-FL10) may be on his way out just months after launching a failed bid to be the next House Speaker.  But further north, freshman Congresswoman Gwen Graham (D-FL2) faces a similarly difficult challenge.  Her district is going from purple to deep red, but the center-right Democrat has amassed over $1 million for reelection, and she’s facing off against political newcomers Neal Dunn and Mary Thomas. 

While the parties prepare for a new round in the congressional case, the Supreme Court’s decision could have a more immediate impact.  Here’s Senate Counsel Raoul Cantero. 

“We believe that to the extent that to the extent that the court is considering the adoption of the plaintiffs map, then they too have the burden of proof to show that that was drawn with the proper intent and it meets all the constitutional requirements,” Cantero says. “In other words, if the court determines that we did not meet our burden of proof then that doesn’t automatically mean that you adopt their maps.”

He’s arguing before Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds about a parallel challenge regarding the state’s Senate districts.  A version of his argument was floated in the congressional briefing before the Supreme Court.  But the majority dismissed the contention—writing instead that the Legislature bears the sole burden of proof, and the coalition plans demonstrate deficiencies in their drafts. 

That finding is sure to color the arguments when court reconvenes in the Senate case December 14.