[Atlanta, GA] Corrine Brown lost her high-profile battle against the will of the Florida electorate. The “Fair Districts” amendment stands for now, anyway.
A federal appellate court on Tuesday upheld a 2010 constitutional amendment that attempts to ensure that congressional political districts are drawn fairly, rejecting an appeal backed by the Republican-led Florida Legislature.
In a 32-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected claims by U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican, and Brown, a Democrat, who challenged Amendment 6, one of the so-called “Fair Districts” amendments.
The amendment requires lawmakers to draw congressional boundaries that do not favor any party or particular candidate.
The Florida Legislature had joined the two members of Congress in the fight, with House Speaker Dean Cannon (R-35/Winter Park) choosing to appeal a September fair districts ruling by a federal district judge in Miami upholding the amendment, which was approved by 62.9% of voters in November 2010.
“The appellants claim that Amendment Six is unconstitutional because it was enacted by citizen initiative rather than by the state’s legislature in the ordinary legislative process,” Judge Stanley Marcus wrote for the court. “…We are unpersuaded.”
The Republican House and Senate have opposed the fair districts requirement since it was put on the ballot in 2010 by grassroots group FairDistrictsFlorida.org, along with another similar measure dealing with legislative districts, Amendment 5.
Photo: U.S. House of Rep.
U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart fought the “fair districts” amendment
The Legislature also passed counter amendments to try to nullify the proposals before they even were approved, though those were ultimately struck down by the Florida Supreme Court.
Brown (D-3/Jacksonville) and Diaz-Balart (R-21/Miami) filed the suit to scuttle Amendment 6. They argue it violates federal election law guaranteeing equal access for minority candidates. Some districts have essentially been gerrymandered to guarantee the election of a minority.
The Legislature joined in, arguing that the U.S. Constitution sets aside the task of redrawing the political boundaries for lawmakers, and that state voters can’t override that through the state’s constitution.
“All Amendment Six does is require the Legislature to account for some particular standards when conducting the complex task of drawing congressional district lines,” the federal appeals judges wrote. “States can and routinely do consider the very same factors when redistricting.”
Katherine Betta, spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, said the speaker was reviewing the order.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-26/Merritt Island) said it really didn’t’ t matter that much now – because, he argued, lawmakers have abided by the fair districts requirement anyway. The process of redrawing the maps is pretty far along – the House and Senate are both nearing votes on their respective proposals.
Photo: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate Images
State Senate President Mike Haridopolos on fair districts: “We followed Amendments 5 and 6″
“We followed Amendments 5 and 6 … we respected Amendments 5 and 6,” Haridopolos said late Tuesday. “We were working under the assumption that 5 and 6 were constitutional.”
Democratic leaders applauded the ruling.
“The attempt by Florida Republicans to overturn the will of the people in the federal courts has been thoroughly and rightfully rejected,” Florida Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith said in a statement following the opinion’s release. “It is time for the Republicans to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and start listening to the voters.”
While Brown, who is African-American, and Diaz-Balart, who is Hispanic, had argued that the voter approved standards would endanger districts drawn to help minorities achieve representation, not all minorities agreed. Several Democrats in the Florida Legislature, including a number of African-Americans, opposed the lawsuit.
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-18/Tampa), who is African-American, was one who applauded the fair districts ruling.
“U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus rightly affirmed the power of the people to amend their constitution,” said Joyner, who also was an intervenor in the case, defending the constitutionality of the fair districts amendment.
“Amendment 6 may not give incumbents the districts they want, but it gives the voters the right to set the standards to elect the Congressional representatives of their choice,” she said.
By: Michael Peltier/The News Service of Florida
Lead image: Congress woman Corrine Brown. Photo: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate Images