Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lawmakers Won on Florida Supreme Court Decision

I don't have a great deal of knowledge about Florida law on legislative privilege. I have no reason to doubt that the 1st District Court of Appeal was upholding the law by protecting members of the Florida legislature from testifying on redistricting. I still would have liked to hear members of the legislature speak on-the-record about the redistricting process. From the decision.

"We are confident that respondents will be able to make their case that the plan was drawn with improper intent -- if, indeed, that was what happened -- with the evidence in the legislative record and their experts’ analysis of the plan and its underlying demographic data," wrote Judge T. Kent Wetherell, who was joined in the majority by Judge Scott Makar.

I don't believe that members of the Florida legislature should be hauled into court every time a group or a citizen has a disagreement on legislation. These elective officials would always be in court. I would like to see the legislature testify on matters as important as redistricting. The question is how can courts make that distinction. Does Florida law even give the courts that much leeway?

Judge Lewis' decision in the 1st District Court of Appeal did not touch upon testimony from the legislature. Lewis refused to dismissed the case because Sec. of State Ken Detzner argued that the Florida Supreme Court has executive jurisdiction over challenges to redistricting plans. Lewis noted that the argument wasn't true.

The problem with this argument is it flies it the face of the case law. In the 40 plus years this method has been in the Florida Constitution, and despite the several opinions on redistricting, including the two most recent opinions in 2012, the Florida Supreme Court has never held that it has executive judisdiction over over challenges to legislative redistricting plans. To the contrary, it has repeatedly stated that it was limited to a "facial" review and that consideration of the more fact intensive "as-applied" claims were "better suited for a court of competent judisdiction where there is an opportunity to present evidence and witness testimony and where the court has the ability to make factual findings based on the evidence presented."

THe Florida Supreme Court isn't designed to hear hours of witness testimony. That is why Detzner appealed the 1st District Court of Appeaal ruling. Lewis was more than willing to hear legislators and staffers speak on the redistricting process. The good news for the Legue of Women Voters is the Florida Supreme Court hasn't dismissed the case. As of now, the obvious winners from the Florida Supreme Court ruling is REpublican lawmakers and Democrats with gerrymandered districts.

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