New Supreme Court jus­tices must honor vot­ers, up­hold Fair Dis­tricts

Orlando Sentinel - - OPINION - By Deirdre Mac­nab Guest Colum­nist Deirdre Mac­nab is the for­mer pres­i­dent of the League of Women Vot­ers of Florida.

Ger­ry­man­der­ing, or politi­cians draw­ing dis­tricts so they can win over and over again, has been around a long time.

It’s easy to for­get that just a few years ago, our politi­cians had free rein in draw­ing dis­tricts, with no rules. It showed: In 2004, 100 per­cent of our in­cum­bents were re-elected. Why? Be­cause politi­cians were draw­ing the maps to en­sure they could pick their vot­ers, in­stead of vot­ers de­cid­ing who they wanted.

I was the pres­i­dent of the Florida League of Women Vot­ers for six years as we bat­tled the po­lit­i­cal power struc­ture for rules that would re­quire the Leg­is­la­ture to put aside their self-pro­tect­ing in­stincts and cre­ate fairly drawn leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional dis­tricts. Florida vot­ers spoke — 63 per­cent voted to pass the Fair Dis­tricts Amend­ments.

But what did the Leg­is­la­ture do? They en­gaged in a scheme with po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives to draw the new dis­trict maps in back rooms. And while those maps were be­ing drawn, they in­ten­tion­ally lied to the pub­lic by promis­ing the most open, trans­par­ent and in­ter­ac­tive re­dis­trict­ing process ever…in­clud­ing pub­lic fo­rums where some spent time re­view­ing their Face­book pages and check­ing out lo­cal plas­tic surgery clin­ics.

Af­ter we chal­lenged the maps in court, re­spected Tal­la­has­see Cir­cuit Judge, Terry Lewis elo­quently found: “A group of po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tives did in fact con­spire to ma­nip­u­late and in­flu­ence the re­dis­trict­ing process. … They made a mock­ery of the Leg­is­la­ture’s pro­claimed trans­par­ent and open process of re­dis­trict­ing by do­ing all of this in the shadow of that process, uti­liz­ing the ac­cess it gave them to the de­ci­sion mak­ers, but go­ing to great lengths to con­ceal from the pub­lic their plan and their par­tic­i­pa­tion in it.”

Af­ter years of work and 13 suc­cess­ful law­suits up­hold­ing the new laws in a num­ber of courts, it was deeply con­cern­ing to read about newly elected Gov. Ron DeSan­tis’s com­ments to the Fed­er­al­ist So­ci­ety, a con­ser­va­tive group of lawyers and judges.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, he re­ceived a stand­ing ova­tion when he sug­gested that his newly ap­pointed Supreme Court jus­tices would play a more ac­tivist role in re­dis­trict­ing. Was he sug­gest­ing that the Court ig­nore the con­sti­tu­tional rules that 63 per­cent of Florida vot­ers supported when they voted for Fair Dis­tricts in 2010?

It is sim­ply out­ra­geous for any­one to sug­gest that new jus­tices rul­ing on the next round of re­dis­trict­ing should dis­card the fair­ness amend­ments in fa­vor of par­ti­san in­ter­ests that ap­pointed them. This is both an in­sult to the vot­ers and an in­sult to what we hope will be the in­tegrity of our new jus­tices.

What is Gov. DeSan­tis try­ing to ac­com­plish? A re­turn to the days where politi­cians picked their vot­ers and pre­de­ter­mined the re­sults?

Be­fore the Fair Dis­tricts amend­ments were passed — and while ger­ry­man­der­ing was still le­gal — dis­tricts were drawn to en­sure the con­tin­ued dom­i­nance of in­cum­bent politi­cians and their par­ties. Since the Fair Dis­tricts amend­ments were im­ple­mented, the num­bers have slowly come closer to re­flect­ing the more bal­anced elec­torate of our state. But Repub­li­cans still hold ma­jori­ties in both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture and in Florida’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion, and our rep­re­sen­ta­tion still does not re­flect the 50-50 na­ture of our state.

Here’s hop­ing that new Supreme Court Jus­tices Car­los Mu­niz, Robert Luck and Bar­bara Lagoa will re­spect the will of the Florida vot­ers, fol­low the prece­dent of their pre­de­ces­sors, and con­tinue to up­hold our con­sti­tu­tional rules for draw­ing fair dis­tricts.

Our Florida cit­i­zens de­serve noth­ing less than a fair and im­par­tial ju­di­ciary. And our new gover­nor should not re­quire po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance. On the con­trary, he should de­mand that his new ap­pointees be noth­ing less than fair and im­par­tial ju­rists who will up­hold our con­sti­tu­tion.

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