Every ten years, states draw new election districts after the census. In most states, the legislature executes this task, which means that the controlling party creates a redistricting map that looks more like a Picasso than a rational division of the state's voting populace.
Florida voters decided to kick cubist gerrymandering out of the state in 2010 with Amendment Six, a compact district amendment proposed by FairDistrictsFlorida.org. This week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the voters, rejecting a challenge from politicians who wanted to stick with the golden days of incumbent-favoring redistricting maps, reports the Associated Press.
U.S. Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, and Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, challenged the constitutionality of the anti-gerrymandering amendment, claiming that Amendment Six is unconstitutional because it was enacted by citizen initiative rather than by the state's legislature in the ordinary "legislative process." They further argued that -- even if properly enacted pursuant to Florida's legislative process -- Amendment Six imposes substantive requirements that far exceed the state legislature's Elections Clause power.
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument, finding that "The lawmaking power in Florida expressly includes the power of the people to amend their constitution, and that is exactly what the people did here in passing Amendment Six."
The court also scoffed at the idea that amendment "dictated electoral outcomes" by prohibiting maps that intentionally helped or hurt incumbents, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
The Eleventh Circuit reasoned, "The incumbency provision is neutral on its face, explicitly requiring that lines not be designed to help or handicap particular candidates based on incumbency or membership in a particular party. Far from 'dictating electoral outcomes,' the provision seeks to maximize electoral possibilities by leveling the playing field ... It would be extraordinary to conclude that a provision prohibiting district lines 'drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent' somehow violates a rule against electoral regulations that 'favor or disfavor ... candidates.'"
The Florida Legislature still needs to create 27 new districts to meet the Amendment Six anti-gerrymandering requirements. The Justice Department must then approve the final plan under the Voting Rights Act, reports the AP.
- Brown v. Secretary of State (Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Back to the Drawing Board: Reversal in Texas Redistricting Case (FindLaw's Supreme Court blog)
- Court Sides with Commission on California Redistricting Maps (FindLaw's California Case Law blog)