New Supreme Court justices must honor voters, uphold Fair Districts
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.