Last month, a Florida trial court held that the state’s gerrymandered congressional maps — maps that enabled Republicans to capture 17 of the state’s 27 U.S. House seats despite President Obama’s victory over Mitt Romney on the very same day — violate the state’s constitution. On Friday, Judge Terry Lewis issued a new order suggesting, without outright concluding, that the unconstitutional maps may not be used in the 2014 election. Indeed, Lewis floats the possibility that he may order Florida’s 2014 congressional elections to be delayed, at least in some parts of the state.
Although top Florida Republicans have indicated they will not appeal Lewis’ original order declaring the state’s maps unconstitutional, they asked him to delay the impact of his decision until after the 2014 elections, essentially allowing one more slate of lawmakers to be elected using the illegal maps. In his original order, Lewis determined that two districts were drawn in order to transform a bloc of four districts “from being four Democratic performing or leaning seats in early maps . . . to two Democratic and two Republican performing seats in the enacted map.” Thus, if the old maps are allowed in 2014, Republicans will likely gain two more seats in the House than they would under lawful maps.
In Friday’s order, Lewis orders the state legislature to “submit a remedial or revised map no later than noon on August 15, 2014.” Though Lewis does not reveal what he will do next, he does note that “[t]here is authority that both justifies pushing back the November 4th election date and suggests that logistically, it can be done. Under the circumstances before me, I believe that the law requires that I at least consider the possibility.”
The authority he refers to is a 1982 case where a court ordered Georgia congressional races delayed after the state drew two congressional districts that violated the Voting Rights Act. If Lewis were to take a similar action in this case, that could mean that he would order congressional races delayed in the districts most impacted by his decision, while allowing elections in the rest of the state to move forward on schedule.