The gerrymander, a noxious creature that for over two hundred years has enabled one party or the other to retain control and remain entrenched over legislatures, is an endangered species, thanks to a couple of recent court decisions. One of these was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, upholding an Arizona law that would allow independent, non-partisan committees to draw election boundaries. Last week, in a 5-2 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that eight of the state’s most offensively drawn congressional districts must be redrawn for fairness.
It gets even better than that, at least for Florida voters. In the majority opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente criticized politicians who “made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map[s], outside the purview of public scrutiny” – despite earlier assurances from the state legislature that the redistricting would be the “most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state.” Florida legislators have until October to come up with new legislative districts with full public disclosure – and the final maps will require approval in a special session.
The ruling impacts both parties equally – including that of Democratic Representative Corine Brown, whose 5th District is possibly the most convoluted in the United States. Running from Jacksonville in the north to Orlando in the south, it resembles the Upper Snake River of Wyoming and Idaho more than anything else. Representative Brown, an African-American, was critical of the court’s decision. Charging the court with violating the Voting Rights Act, she argues that redrawing her district would put black voters at a disadvantage.
Be that as it may, Floridians who identify themselves as Democratic outnumber Republican voters by approximately 4% – yet over 60% of Florida delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives are Republican.
The fight for fair redistricting in Florida has been going on for some time. In 2010, Florida voters approved an amendment to the state’s constitution, requiring districts to be compact, without dividing counties and cities. Almost immediately after its passage, GOP members of Congress filed a federal lawsuit against the amendment in the dead of night. Despite all efforts, the defense prevailed and the law was upheld. Nonetheless, the Florida GOP has continued to operate in secrecy, engaging in a range of Machiavellian maneuvers in order to preserve its gerrymandered advantage.
This latest ruling by the Florida Supreme Court is just one more battle in an ongoing war for fair elections – but between this and the earlier SCOTUS decision, it increasingly looks like the infamous gerrymander may be headed for extinction.