The proponents of fair congressional and legislative districts — including almost two-thirds of the Floridians who voted last November — got good news from the U.S. Department of Justice: The agency found no reason why the Legislature should not use two new state constitutional amendments to guide it in redrawing Florida's political map.
But the fight for better representation and more competitive elections — the basic purposes of the two amendments — is far from over.
The amendments, approved by 63 percent of state voters, are the target of a lawsuit brought by two members of Congress and the state House of Representatives.
The redistricting process — required every 10 years following the U.S. Census — gets under way this month as the Legislature begins a series of public hearings across the state. The new district maps are scheduled to be completed in June 2012.
Advocates of fair districts and fair elections will need to be vigilant and involved.
The so-called preclearance granted by the Department of Justice, required because of a history of racial discrimination in some Florida counties, was an important first step because the Department of Justice is required to consider any potential for racial discrimination in evaluating changes to Florida's voting and election laws.
That's important because the lawsuit — brought by U.S. Reps. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and joined by the Florida House — contends in part that the amendments violate the federal Voting Rights Act's prohibition of discrimination against minority candidates and incumbents.
The suit also argues that the standards for congressional redistricting must be governed by the U.S. Constitution, not the state.
We won't question the merits of the suit except to point out that both of the Florida amendments explicitly state that districts cannot be drawn to deny minorities "the equal opportunity to participate in the political process." ...
Yet, even basic standards are apparently too much for the Legislature to bear. In a tight budget year, lawmakers set aside tens of millions of dollars to defend against legal challenges to their redistricting decisions.
The lawmakers' chief opposition will be the millions of Florida voters who decided last year that there must be a better way than the current process to determine who represents them in Congress and the Legislature.
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