Florida’s 2012 elections are going to be quite a showdown, as evident by the pre-campaign season drama currently unfolding in the Sunshine State. As reported by guest contributor, Laura Berrocal, in Florida Policymakers Call Foul on Fair Districts Push, U.S. Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and Corrine Brown (D-FL) filed a lawsuit blocking passage of Amendments 5 and 6 also known as the “Fair Districts” amendments. Brown and Diaz-Balart allege the legislation violates the U.S. Constitution, but in a counter-suit Florida House Democrats Perry Thurston, Joe Gibbons, Luis Garcia, and Janet Cruz filed a lawsuit to ensure that the Fair Districts amendments do in fact become law.
The Fair Districts amendments are supposed to make the practice of gerrymandering illegal. Gerrymandering is the practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, or neutral districts.
In spite of the pending lawsuits, this past Tuesday Republican leaders asked the federal government to give its approval on the amendments. The original application for amendment approval was withdrawn by Governor Rick Scott. It had been approved by voters and filed by former Governor Charlie Crist.
Scott said in January that withdrawing the application was part of his push to review all new rules and regulations.
Now, it’s turned into a debate over who has the right to submit the application – the governor or the legislature – as well as whether changes made to the new application in fact still protect the voters of Florida from gerrymandering. Republican leadership say the new request “contains a number of statements that are clearly intended to undermine the intent” of the changes. The application explains that the changes could potentially hurt minority voting strength, but would not if “properly interpreted.”
While at first brush it seems the GOP leadership is keen on ensuring fairness when it comes to drawing nonpartisan political districts, Brown, Diaz-Balart and their supporters are claiming just the opposite. It’s like they are warning voters ahead of time of the ways in which the amendments might be used to promote gerrymandering.
Gerald Hebert, an election law expert who has followed Florida’s reapportionment battles since 2002, said the legislators were wrong on their proposed interpretations.
“What they’re trying to do is get the Justice Department to approve their misinterpretations,” he said. “The Justice Department won’t do that — they’ll simply say they either approve or disapprove the amendments.”
The lawsuits and argument over who has the right to submit the application for amendment approval is all because new Census data requires lawmakers in Florida to redraw the lines for new districts. That means two new U.S. house seats will be created before the 2012 elections.
Laura Berrocal is the author of “The Cuban Democracy Act: An Overview of the Act and Its Implications for Democracy.” Her public policy background includes working with the Pennsylvania State Senate and national research and advocacy groups such as the National Puerto Rican Coalition. Laura holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from The George Washington University and a B.A from Temple University.