Supreme Court Strikes Down Congressional Districts

A recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court continues to grab headlines in and around Florida. In The League of Women Voters of Florida v. Detzner, No. SC14-1905 (2015) the High Court struck down the congressional districts recently drawn up by the Florida Legislature as an improper gerrymandering of the state’s voting districts. Gerrymandering refers to the drawing of congressional maps to favor one political party over another so that the party can continue to win congressional elections.

The decision had Florida legislators reeling and complaining. But the Court, despite the negative publicity, ordered the legislature to come up with new maps within a 100 days of its decision. As part of its order, the court will review the new maps to ensure they do not violate the constitution, as well. The ruling has far-reaching impacts on Florida because each map drawn up represents the group of people who will elect Florida’s U.S. Congressional delegates. The change in districting, in turn, also has an impact on the national level.

History of Gerrymandering

This act of drawing congressional districts to benefit one political party over another hasa long and storied history in America. The term itself comes from the Governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 approved a law that redistricted the congressional districts in his state that his political party would be safe from any challenger in an election. When the map was printed and revealed in the newspapers, it showed how the new district looked like a salamander, and the term “gerrymandering” was coined because it was Elbridge Gerry who approved the new district.

This tradition of drawing up congressional districts so one party could remain in power continued through the history of America. But in 2010 the Florida voters passed an amendment to Florida’s Constitution known as the Fair Districts Amendment. This amendment was supposed to stop this process of gerrymandering and ensure that no districts are drawn up with the intent to favor one political party over another. It was this amendment that the Florida Supreme Court based its decision on.

Court’s Ruling

The case was brought by a group of concerned citizens who felt that their rights were being violated, particularly in view of the new law that was passed in 2010. In its ruling, the court determined that when the legislature drew up its new district maps in 2012, they based their decision on a group of 2002 maps, whose stated intent was to favor one party over another. This was clear proof, according to the court, the the legislature drew their maps with intent to favor the majority’s party.

Now that the decision is in, and the court’s order given, the state legislature is convening to redraw the districts and hopefully prevent any further challenge to their work. Even as they are meeting to redraw these districts and comply with the court’s decision, some members are trying to come up withplans to defeat the court’s power to make decisions like these.

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