TALLAHASSEE Three of the Florida Legislature's past leaders are weighing into the fight over the state's redrawn political maps, arguing lawmakers would be harmed if they are forced to testify under oath about whether they gerrymandered districts last year.
Former House Speaker James Harold Thompson, former Senate President Ken Pruitt, and former Senate President John McKay asked the Florida Supreme Court on Monday for permission to file a "friend of the court" brief on behalf of the Florida House, which is battling with the Fair Districts backers over re-drawn Senate and congressional districts. On Wednesday, the court agreed to hear them out.
Florida's 2010 anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments bar lawmakers from drawing lines that intentionally help incumbents or political parties, which Fair Districts backers argue is what happened. But the sides have been fighting for a year over whether lawmakers will have to testify about their motives under oath. The high court will likely decide that issue this fall, ahead of a trial in Leon County Circuit Court that could get started sometime early next year.
The three former presiding officers two Republicans and one Democrat wrote Monday that "compelled examination of legislators under oath ... concerning their actions, thoughts, motives, or communications in the lawmaking process would subject legislators to improper influence and manipulation and chill the free, robust, and confident debate and discussion of issues among legislators and with constituents, to the injury of the democratic process and the public good."
But the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and other critics have argued since last year that they need access to lawmakers themselves in order to examine the Legislature's redistricting handiwork, which they allege still intentionally preserves GOP majorities, in violation of the non-political requirements of the Fair Districts amendment to the state Constitution. They have been seeking to gather evidence in emails and testimony of lawmakers to make their case.