The three-year battle over Florida’s congressional boundaries moved to the state’s highest court Tuesday where lawyers for the Legislature tried to get a trial court map declared unconstitutional but instead found themselves defending the way lawmakers handled two Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who authored the landmark ruling in July that invalidated Florida’s 27 congressional districts, grilled the attorney for the Florida House for “jumping over” portions of the ruling “as if it didn’t exist.” “The reason that it was to be redrawn was it was drawn to favor the Republican Party,” Pariente told George Meros, the lawyer for the House. When the House redrew Districts 26 and 27 in Miami, “it was redrawn to favor Republicans even more than the original,” she said. “I’m having trouble with the House’s position here.” Meros countered: “There is no evidence in the record that these map drawers drew that configuration in order to improve Republican performance,” he said. “They had no idea.”
The hearing came a month after Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis rejected the Florida Legislature’s third attempt at redrawing Florida congressional districts and recommended a map proposed by the challengers, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters as well as the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida.\
The Legislature’s handling of Miami districts is at the heart of the dispute over whether the court will accept or reject the map drawn by the challengers.
The Florida Supreme Court has the final say in setting the congressional lines in time for the 2016 elections after it declared the congressional boundaries used in the 2012 and 2014 elections were invalid because lawmakers had allowed improper interference by political operatives in violation of the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution.