Friday, December 27, 2013

A Blue Florida? State Supreme Court Slaps Down Rick Scott’s Gerrymandering

A Blue Florida? State Supreme Court Slaps Down Rick Scott’s Gerrymandering

posted by Salvatore Aversa

Florida has been a hotbed for political malfeasance in recent years.  From the purging of voter rolls to not enough voting machines in poor and minority districts, all were designed to do one thing.  Ensure that the Democratic Party does not turn the state blue.
Florida has been an important swing state for national elections in past elections.  During election night, the two states that are focused on most are Ohio and Florida.  In 3 out of the 4 past elections, Florida has gone blue for the Presidential election (2004 being the exception).  Despite an overwhelming majority voting for President Obama, Florida was able to keep 17 out of 27 Representatives and 1 Senator Republican.  This was able to happen, by and large, thanks to a political trick called gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering refers to the redrawing of district lines to favor the party in control of the state, and occurs every 10 years, after the US census is conducted.  While gerrymandering is meant to change districts representation in Congress based on the community, often what occurs is a suppression of the vote.  Republicans have the most to lose as the country becomes more Liberal, and thus make some of the egregious changes to districts.
The way that the redistricting works, is that it dilutes a district that traditionally will go to one party, with several districts that vote the other way.  The percentages suddenly change, and in a winner-take-all electorate, gerrymandering means everything.  When looking at district lines you will often see one community, then a long skinny line for a distance, and another community grouped in.  This is a result of gerrymandering to favor one party.
There have been attempts in the past to try and rein in gerrymandering to suppress the vote, most notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Many states throughout the South had a history of racial discrimination in their polls—from poll taxes to demanding a literacy test.  In response, the Voting Rights Act was instituted to prevent future discrimination.
One of the most important aspects of the VRA was recently struck down by the Supreme Court.  Section 4 stated that states that had a history of racial discrimination at the polls had to approve all of their changes in regard to voting with a three-judge panel in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  If after 10 years there were no indiscretions and met several criteria, and could prove the following, the state could “bailout.”
• No test or device has been used within the jurisdiction for the purpose or with the effect of voting discrimination;
• All changes affecting voting have been reviewed under Section 5 prior to their implementation;
• No change affecting voting has been the subject of an objection by the Attorney General or the denial of a Section 5 declaratory judgment from the District of Columbia district court;
• There have been no adverse judgments in lawsuits alleging voting discrimination;
• There have been no consent decrees or agreements that resulted in the abandonment of a discriminatory voting practice;
• There are no pending lawsuits that allege voting discrimination; and
• Federal examiners have not been assigned;
• There have been no violations of the Constitution or federal, state or local laws with respect to voting discrimination unless the jurisdiction establishes that any such violations were trivial, were promptly corrected, and were not repeated.
Since its passage, the VRA has been reauthorized unanimously by Congress.  The most recent passage was in 2006, and was reauthorized for 25 years.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled Section 4 unconstitutional.  Justice Roberts declared that racism in America was over!
“Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.  There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act.  The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process.”
Since Florida is such an important swing state, how they control gerrymandering is very important.  In 2012, Republicans went on a drawing-spree and created some very questionable voting districts.  In other states, this may not be an issue.  However, in 2012, Florida voters approved two measures to apply “fair districts” to the state Constitution.  Section (a) states:
No apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of contiguous territory.
Several advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause petitioned Republican leadership to reveal the motive behind the redrawing of several districts.  When they released a portion of the email correspondence, there was reason to believe the GOP plotted with party officials and political consultants for partisan advantages in the remapping of Senate and congressional districts.
When the groups issued subpoenas to former Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, as well as two staffers, the Legislature sought to block their testimony, as well as block access to draft copies of maps.
For this reason, the advocacy groups took the GOP to court.
On December 13, 2013, the state Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision, ruled in favor of the advocacy groups, and stated that legislatures and their staff must testify in the case.
The Republican Party tried to claim privilege of the office to block any access in regard to gerrymandering districts.  However, due to the public interest in the case, this was ruled out.
The Majority wrote of their decision:
The Supreme Court majority concluded that the Constitution gives legislators a privilege from testifying, but it “is not absolute and may yield to a compelling, competing interest.” In addition, the justices noted, the fair districts amendments specifically outlaw improper legislative “intent,” which opened the door for lawmakers and staffs to be forced to testify about their intent.
Justice Barbara Pariente wrote that the court must strike a balance between the constitutional rights of Florida citizens and the separation-of-powers principle that legislators enjoy a shield from being compelled to testify about their activities.
“We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to prevent the discovery of relevant evidence necessary to vindicate the explicit state constitutional prohibition against unconstitutional partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent,” Pariente wrote.
The decision was a big victory for the voters.  If Republicans truly have nothing to hide, then why are they trying so difficult to keep their motives under wraps?  It is unclear what would happen if the GOP is found to have violated the state Constitution in their remapping, but it would create a precedent for groups to fight questionable redistricting in other states.
MSNBC discusses the impact of the Voting Rights Act as well as  gerrymandered GOP Districts.

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