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Feds sign off on Congressional maps

The U.S.  Department of Justice on Monday approved the Legislature's plans for new congressional, House and Senate districts Monday, paving the way for the state to begin using the maps in preparation for the November elections.

Even though the Congressional maps have been pre-cleared, they could still be challenged under the state’s Fair Districts amendment.

The pre-clearance does not halt a challenge to the state congressional plans under Florida's recent anti-gerrymandering, “Fair Districts” amendment, and it doesn't bar legal action against the maps under the federal Voting Rights Act.

Under the Voting Rights Act, Florida must get federal approval for any change in elections law for five counties: Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe, due to a history of racial and language discrimination in those areas.

A group of voters backed by the Florida Democratic Party and a coalition of voting-rights groups has challenged the map in court and a ruling is expected soon.

Some Cuban-American lawmakers have threatened to challenge the Legislature's decision not to draw a fourth state Senate seat with a heavy Hispanic majority in Miami-Dade County. That legal action could move forward despite Monday's decision by the Justice Department.

The approval from the federal government marks the second legal milestone the maps have passed in as many weeks. The Florida Supreme Court approved a second draft of the Senate map on Friday, after rejecting an earlier version in March. Justices approved the House map in the earlier decision, but have yet to hear any challenges to the congressional plan.

What they're saying:

Statement by Representative Will Weatherford( R-Wesley Chapel), Chairman of the Florida House Redistricting Committee:

“Today’s pre-clearance by the U.S. Department of Justice signifies the final approval of the state legislative and Congressional maps passed by the Florida legislature. I appreciate the hard work of my colleagues and all of the input we received from Floridians throughout the process.  With their help, we were able to draw fair and compact maps that puts the interests of Floridians over the interests of politicians.

Going forward, we will work with the Department of State and supervisors of elections as the new maps are implemented.  Floridians should feel confident knowing their county election officials have plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming elections.”