SIDES AGREE ON SEPTEMBER COURT DATE IN REDISTRICTING FIGHT

BRANDON LARRABEE | THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA | 07/21/2015

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE - The Legislature and a coalition that successfully challenged the state's congressional districts have agreed to a schedule for a Leon County judge to determine whether lawmakers' second attempt to draw a map complies with the state Constitution.

The agreement, submitted to the Leon County circuit court late Tuesday, calls for a hearing on the new map to begin Sept. 22 and wrap up no later than Sept. 25. Leon County Circuit Judge George S. Reynolds III, who is in charge of a separate legal challenge to districts for the state Senate, had already set a Sept. 25 deadline for the end of the congressional case.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis —- who oversaw the initial challenge to the congressional map —- will also handle the second hearing. The case will ultimately return to the Florida Supreme Court, which struck down eight districts in a 5-2 ruling earlier this month.

The new map was ordered when justices sided with the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs who have long contended the districts drawn in 2012, during the once-a-decade redistricting process, violated the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters two years earlier.

The eight congressional districts directly affected by the ruling are represented by Democrats Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel and Republicans Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Jolly and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. But because all congressional seats are required to have almost precisely the same population, the shifting of boundaries for those seats could cascade through other parts of the state.

Lawmakers will return to Tallahassee next month to approve a revised plan that seeks to comply with the Supreme Court ruling. Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli sent a joint memo to lawmakers Monday announcing that a special will begin Aug. 10 and run until Aug. 21 or until the completion of the new map. The districts then will go back to circuit court.

But there have already been political repercussions before the redistricting process even starts. With his district likely to become more Democratic, Jolly has jumped into the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, a Democrat, has signaled he will likely run for Jolly's seat.

Former Republican Congressman Steve Southerland told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday that he is considering running for his old seat, currently held by Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham. Because of a change in the configuration of Brown's seat, the district is expected to shed Democratic voters who helped Graham win a narrow victory over Southerland last year.


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