Florida Supreme Court Rejects the Legislature’s Bid to Halt Redistricting Lawsuit

By Dwight Slater

In a thirty-four page opinion released today, the Florida Supreme Court rejected every argument advanced by the Legislature in its effort to stop a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters, et al., challenging its 2012 Senate Redistricting Plan. The Florida House of Representatives, et al. v. The League of Women Voters of Florida, et al. (SC13-252) (Canady, J., dissented with Polston, C.J., concurring in dissent). The Court denied the Legislature’s petition for extraordinary relief concluding that “the Legislature has not met its burden of demonstrating that it is entitled to either a writ of prohibition or all writs relief because the circuit court has subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate subsequent fact-based challenges to the legislative apportionment plan and because the circuit court’s exercise of this jurisdiction will not interfere with the binding judgment rendered by this Court.” Opinion at 34.

The Court found that contrary to the Legislature’s argument the Court’s “precedent clearly demonstrates that the Court has never considered its jurisdiction over challenges to a legislative apportionment plan to be exclusive and limited to the constitutionally mandated thirty-day review,” and that the Court “has consistently conducted only a facial review of the plan’s validity during our thirty-day automatic review pursuant to article III, section 16.” Opinion at 12-13. The Court further noted that this is true of its most recent 2012 apportionment decisions, which it described as “replete with statements characterizing the nature of our review as a facial one.” Opinion at 13.

The Court flatly rejected the Legislature’s contention that all challenges to the apportionment plan could have been brought during the thirty-day review already conducted the Court. See Opinion at 15-16. The Court found that this position “directly contravene[s] the intent of the framers and voters in passing the 2010 constitutional amendment” because any evidence discovered outside of the limited record before the Court could never be tested in through a fact-based, adversarial proceeding. Opinion at 15-16. The Court added that, contrary to the Legislature’s characterization of the historical context, “. . . the primary purpose behind the creation of this Court’s initial thirty-day review of the plan’s validity was in actuality to remove redistricting litigation from the purview of the federal courts,” not state courts. Opinion at 16 (emphasis in original).

The Court found the Legislature’s remaining arguments meritless, including finding the Legislature’s reliance on Roberts v. Brown, 43 So. 3d 673, 677-78 (Fla. 2010), to support its argument is completely misplaced, as Roberts was not a redistricting case at all, but rather an advisory opinion, which, unlike the instant case, is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court. Opinion at 18-19.

So, for now it appears that the 2012 Redistricting Fight will continue, and it will happen on the battleground just sanctioned by the Court. For a more in-depth discussion of the arguments that were before the Court, see here.

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