TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The oft-maligned district represented by Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown is the target of a federal lawsuit by two voters arguing that it violates the U.S. Constitution.
The court challenge could open a new front in the already complicated legal battle over the political maps drawn by the Legislature in 2012, the first time lawmakers crafting legislative and congressional districts faced the anti-gerrymandering "Fair Districts" amendments approved by voters in 2010. State challenges under those standards are already working their way through the court system.
But the federal complaint, a new version of which was filed Thursday, focuses more narrowly on the 5th Congressional District and says it violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
"Ample evidence, including the unjustifiable concentration of African-American voters in Congressional District 5, the bizarre shape of Congressional District 5, and the failure of Congressional District 5 to utilize existing political and geographical boundaries, shows that race played a predominant role in the drawing of Congressional District 5," the filing says. "Public statements by the state of Florida further support that conclusion."
The lawsuit was first reported by the joint Tallahassee bureau of The Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times.
One of the two men filing the lawsuit, William Everett Warinner, is part of a state lawsuit against the maps. But the federal filing says he and James C. Miller Sr. "are reasonably concerned that those issues of state constitutional law will not be resolved in time to achieve effective relief before the 2014 congressional elections."
The state case against the maps has been tied up in battles over access to documents and a fight over whether lawmakers could be forced to testify in court about the redistricting process. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last month that they could.
Brown's district has long been controversial. In an effort to give minority voters a voice, it sprawls across eight counties as it winds from Duval County to Orange County, carving out enclaves of black voters to create a district likely to elect a candidate favored by African-Americans. That allows more Republican-friendly seats to be drawn around it.
"It's the same suit that's been going on for 22 years," Brown said Friday. "But keep it in mind, before I was elected we didn't have an African-American in the United States Congress. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we didn't have 300 in the entire country."
While state attorneys haven't specifically responded to the claims in the lawsuit, they have argued that the case shouldn't be handled by the Middle District of Florida -- which includes the northeast, central, and southwestern parts of the state -- and should be dismissed or moved to the Northern District, centered around Tallahassee.
Lawyers for Secretary of State Ken Detzner say the law was passed in Tallahassee, Detzner's office is located in Tallahassee and Warinner also lives in the Northern District.
"Venue does not lie in any and every remote locale affected by impugned legislation," they wrote. "Rather, an action may only be brought where a defendant resides or in the venue of a substantial part of the events or omissions giving rise to the claim, none of which occurred in the Middle District."
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