A Leon County judge on Friday ordered the Legislature to redraw the state's congressional districts over the next two weeks, likely requiring a special session and potentially throwing this month's primary elections into chaos.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis also ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner and local elections supervisors to come up with a new voting schedule for any districts that lawmakers would have to redraw in the wake of his ruling last month that the current congressional map violates the Florida Constitution.
Duval County's election supervisor, Jerry Holland, said the ruling will likely delay the general election for the entire state by one month.
"The biggest change that is proposed in the order is to move the entire November election to December, and move all the races, the governor race, the new special districts, everything for a final general (election) in December," Holland said.
Matt Corrigan, political science professor at the University of North Florida, said delaying the election a month is the last thing Florida needs.
"It really throws the election processes into chaos. That is a major political earthquake and I hope we don't get to that point," said Corrigan. "What you would have is most of the states would hold their elections in November and we are awaiting again for Florida in December, and you got this high-visibility, high-money governor's race. That would have to go on another month, and voters are indicating they are tired of it right now."
Lewis ruled July 10 that a congressional map approved by lawmakers in 2012 was unconstitutional, drawn to help ruling Republicans maintain their overwhelming control of the state’s congressional delegation. He singled out Congressional District 5 -- a seat currently held by Rep. Corrine Brown -- and the 10th Congressional District.
In his ruling, Lewis said he found the arguments from legislative lawyers "more sensible" and he agreed that the Legislature should be responsible for redrawing Florida's congressional districts. But he said he could not, at this time, push off a new map until 2016. Lewis said to do so would be telling voters "they have been deprived of the equal right of having a say in who represents their interests in Congress for two years."
COURT DOCUMENT: Judge Lewis' ruling
His ruling outlines a timetable calling for the Legislature to submit a revised congressional district map by Aug. 15 and for elections officials to have a proposed special election schedule the same day. He set a deadline three days later for the filing of any objections to the revised map and election schedule, with oral arguments on those objections to be heard at a hearing on Aug. 20.
The Friday Primary is Aug. 26, but early voting begins 10 days earlier.
"This is a champagne moment for Florida voters, who have waited too long for fairly drawn congressional districts," said Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters Florida -- one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. "Per his ruling, Judge Lewis has laid out a path that will allow all Florida voters, for the first time in decades, to elect their representatives in fair and constitutional districts."
How Florida got to this point
Lewis ruled that lawmakers failed during the 2012 redistricting process to follow the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010. The amendments bar the Legislature from crafting districts that favor incumbents or political parties.
Lewis' ruling targeted districts represented Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and Congressman Daniel Webster, a Winter Garden Republican.
Brown's District 5 (displayed on map above) winds its way from Jacksonville to Orlando, has been criticized for years as one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in the nation.
After Friday's ruling was released, Brown released a statement:
"Judge Lewis’ ruling this morning to call the legislature back into session and force a redrawing of Florida’s congressional maps with such a short timetable is certainly not in the best interests of Florida voters, and in reality, it is only the Governor who can call the Legislature back into session. Given the extremely poor history of our state with respect to voting and voting rights, dating all the way back to the days of President Rutherford Hayes, when African Americans were essentially precluded from political office, to more recently, with the dubious vote counting in the presidential elections of 2000, to the elections of 2012, when the state of Florida did not even complete counting ballots until after President Obama was declared the winner. Additionally, the maps in question before the judge were already approved in a bipartisan fashion in the state legislature, and were only approved after numerous statewide hearings on the maps, which allowed for input from all interested parties on the makeup of the district lines." (Read Brown's entire statement)
Brown said the Congressional Black Caucus was looking into the ruling.
Dozens of other members of Congress from Florida would be affected because their districts neighbor one of the two being redrawn.
"By (District 5) being redrawn, every district that touches it could be impacted," Holland said. "There is no doubt it is not going to go in the same direction; it is not going down to Orlando again. Every district between here and there could be impacted. It could easily be anywhere from 10 to 12 districts that could be impacted."
"The responsibility for drawing congressional districts lies with the state and I will represent whatever determination is made," said Republican Rep. Ander Crenshaw, whose district adjoins District 5 in Duval County.
Rep. Mark Pafford, a West Palm Beach Democrat who's in charge of leading his party's House campaign efforts, downplayed the impact of a session on the fall elections and said lawmakers shouldn't complain about having to return.
"I think to put the people's work above campaigning --- I don't think that would be a wise debate to have," he said.