TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - A bitter legal feud over Florida's political landscape has now made its way to the United States Supreme Court.
An emergency petition was filed Wednesday with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that asked him to stop a Florida judge from hearing evidence obtained from a Republican political consulting firm.
The Florida Supreme Court ruled this week that up to 538 pages of evidence could be used by groups suing the Legislature over new political maps. But the court also said that the evidence - which includes emails and maps - must not be disclosed in open court.
The groups suing legislators planned to present the evidence as soon as Thursday. But lawyers representing Gainesville-based Data Targeting and its employees asked Thomas for an emergency stay on Wednesday. Thomas handles emergency applications from Florida.
"An emergency stay is necessary to prevent disclosure of this privileged information (and its entry into evidence) during the ongoing trial in the underlying case, to keep the proverbial cat in the bag, and to preserve the Applicants' ability to later petition this court," states the petition written by Tallahassee attorney D. Kent Safriet.
Data Targeting's lawyers, who are being paid by the Republican Party of Florida, maintain that disclosing the information would violate First Amendment speech rights as well as reveal trade secrets. The court filing also argues the information is irrelevant to determining whether the Legislature violated new standards adopted by voters in 2010.
Florida legislators draw new districts every 10 years based on new census data. The groups suing the Legislature, which include the League of Women Voters, contend that legislators violated the "Fair Districts" constitutional amendments which said districts cannot be drawn in a way to favor incumbents or members of a political party.
Attorneys for the groups have argued that legislators used a "shadow" process that relied on political consultants in an effort to bypass the constitutional amendment. Evidence so far has shown that one GOP consultant received maps before they were made public. A Republican Party official testified Friday that congressional maps he drew and turned over to a GOP consultant were identical to those submitted to the Legislature by a member of the public months later.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis had ruled to allow the documents to be used at the trial, but his decision was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeal. But late Tuesday the Florida Supreme Court ruled the information could be introduced as evidence.
In its 5-2 ruling the state Supreme Court called the redistricting trial unique and said it's important to allow the evidence to be considered. Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston wrote a stinging dissent in which he said the majority overstepped its authority by ruling on evidence during the middle of the trial. He called the ruling "truly unprecedented" that expands the role of the high court "outside the bounds of the constitution."
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