Last week, a Florida trial court struck down the state’s gerrymandered congressional map — a map which enabled Republicans to control 17 of the state’s 27 congressional districts despite the fact that Democratic President Obama won the state in 2012. According to Judge Terry P. Lewis’s opinion in this case, two of the congressional districts, including one that stretches like a snake from the northeast corner of the state down near its midpoint, were drawn in violation of a state constitutional amendment providing that “[n]o apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.”
On Tuesday, Florida’s Republican Senate President Don Gaetz and its GOP Speaker Will Weatherford released a joint statement indicating that “[t]he Legislature does not presently intend to initiate an appeal of the Court’s decision and will redraw the boundaries of Congressional Districts 5 and 10.” In his opinion, Judge Lewis found that these two districts were drawn in a way that transformed them “from being four Democratic performing or leaning seats in early maps . . . to two Democratic and two Republican performing seats in the enacted map.” So, if the map is redrawn in compliance with Lewis’ order, Democrats will likely gain two seats in the U.S. House.
Nevertheless, Gaetz and Weatherford’s statement also indicates that that would prefer to run one more election using the unconstitutional maps before Lewis’ opinion takes effect. “Today,” their statement explains, “we have asked Judge Lewis to clarify, as a legal and practical matter, that his decision does not affect the administration of the 2014 election.” They argue that absentee ballots are already being cast in an upcoming primary, so redrawing the maps now would “disrupt and disenfranchise voters.”
Even if Lewis ultimately rejects this request, however, that still means that the GOP benefited from an entire congressional election — in 2012 — using unconstitutionally gerrymandered maps. Unless courts are able to move more quickly in future gerrymandering cases, that means that lawmakers will still have an incentive to gerrymander legislative maps in the future.