Redistricting changes clear a Florida court hurdle

Redistricting changes clear a Florida court hurdle

posted by Aaron Deslatte on Jan 29, 2009 12:57:33 PM

By Josh Hafenbrack, Tallahassee Bureau

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that agroup trying to place strict guidelines on legislative redistricting had met the legal requirements to go on the 2010 ballot.

The decision clears the way for Fair Districts Florida to launch a citizen-petition drive, aimed at ending the practice of drawing political boundaries to favor the party in power. By Feb. 1, 2010, the group has to amass about 677,000 valid signatures to make it on the ballot.

The Supreme Court ruled that the group's two proposed amendments -- dealing with legisative and congressional boundaries -- satisfy the requirement that constitutional amendments address only a single subject, a legal standard that tripped up past efforts in the decade-long bid for changes to Florida's redistricting system.

"The proposed amendments address a single function of a single branch of government -- establishing additional guidelines for the Legislature to apply when it redistricts legislative and congressional boundaries," the court wrote.

The amendment on legislative redistricting says, "Legislative districts or redistricting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party." Districts also must be "compact," the amendment says, and can't be drawn to block racial or language minorities from having "equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice."

The ruling was a prelminary victory for Florida Democrats, who have virtually no way to loosen the Republican grip on the state Legislature without changes to the redistricting process.

The state's ruling Republicans use micro-targeting and computer wizardry to draw districts that make it almost impossible to unseat incumbents. In November, despite the national Democratic wave and Barack Obama's victory in Florida, not a single incumbent Republican legislator lost.

The Supreme Court decision is a "complete win -- we're very, very happy," Ellen Freidin, the chairwoman of Florida Fair Districts. "There are three steps to this. This is certainly the first one and a very important one. Getting the signatures is second and getting the voters to approve is the last and most important of all."


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