The Florida Legislature illegally redrew boundaries defining congressional districts to benefit the Republican Party, a circuit court judge ruled Thursday.
The League of Women Voters, along with a coalition of voters, challenged the state's Republican-controlled Legislature after it redrew congressional district lines in 2012, suggesting boundaries were manipulated to benefit GOP candidates. Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, in a hard-hitting, 41-page ruling Thursday, accused political consultants of making "a mockery of the Legislature's transparent and open process of redistricting." The judge said the state's 5th Congressional District, held by Rep. Corrine Brown (D), and 10th Congressional District, held by Dan Webster (R), must be redrawn. Districts affected by the adjustments also will need to be redrawn.
The political consultants "were successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan under review here,'' Lewis wrote in the ruling. "And they might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the Plaintiffs determined efforts to uncover it in this case."
Lewis said legislative leaders may have been unaware of the scheme to benefit Republicans. The judge added that he found legislative staffers involved in remapping the districts "straightforward, frank and credible."
Court documents filed in December revealed that many of the Legislature's redistricting records, including emails and other documents, were destroyed.
"There is no legal duty on the part of the Legislature to preserve these records, but you have to wonder why they didn't,'' Lewis wrote of the erased files. "Litigation over their plans was 'a moral certainty' as their lawyers put it earlier in the case, and intent would be a key issue in any challenge."
The Legislature is likely to appeal.