A long, bitter fight over Florida redistricting has ended up in the state Supreme Court after costing Florida taxpayers over $6.2 million so far in legal fees to settle it.
The legal battle originally was triggered when the Florida Senate and House approved a redistricting plan for the state during the 2012 redistricting process, the Tampa Bay Tribune reports.
When the Florida League of Women Voters (LWV) and others took the Legislature to court to challenge the redistricting plan, which appeared to favor Republicans, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the redistricting plan violated the 2010 Florida Fair Districts Amendment, which banned lawmakers from drawing up congressional districts that give a partisan advantage, WFTV Orlando reports.
The amendment passed with 63 percent of the vote, FairDistrictsNow reports.
Lewis called on the Legislature, in a special summer session, to redraw the districts and approved the results, but the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit argue that Lewis "erred by only requiring two districts to be redrawn, by allowing the Legislature to provide the remedy by quickly passing a new plan that is largely the same as the old plan, and then by deferring to the Legislature's decision to maintain an apportionment scheme that ensured continued Republican domination over an electorate evenly divided between the two political parties," the Tribune reported.
The plaintiffs say the current plan "was motivated by unlawful partisan intent," and are challenging the makeup of seven districts as unconstitutional.
The lawsuit charges that the Legislature engaged in "packing," or placing more minority voters, assumed to be Democratic-leaning, into a single district, so that surrounding districts would remain Republican.
The situation has been further complicated by the recent release of over 500 emails between prominent Republicans that appear to show collusion in creating the original redistricting plan, and outline attempts to hide the source of the redistricting maps by having them submitted, not by Republican lawmakers or consultants, but by using a GOP consultant to recruit others to submit the plans, the Naples News reports.
WFTV revealed that outside attorneys hired by both branches of the Florida Legislature have billed $6,222,655.93 in the various lawsuits, not including expenses to be incurred by the new state Supreme Court struggle -- including $3.1 million to the Senate, which includes $26,491 for hotels, $44,900 for air travel and $80,747 for research, and $2,232,070 from one House attorney firm, including $62,765.28 for expert witnesses.
Deirdre Macnab, president of the Florida LWV, told WFTV, "This is an incredible indignity. The Legislature subverted the will of the people during the drawing process. They are also spending millions of our taxpayer dollars to fight the will of the voters.
"It's disgraceful and unacceptable."
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