By Christine Wilson
Dr. Susan A. MacManus is a Distinguished Professor at the University of South Florida in the Government and International Affairs Department. MacManus also serves as the political analyst for WFLA News Channel 8, the Tampa NBC affiliate and is a featured columnist on sayfiereview.com. I am honored to have been able to ask her a few questions about congressional redistricting in Florida.
In 2010, Florida voters, through an initiative, amended Florida’s Constitution to specify criteria for congressional redistricting. Judge Terry P. Lewis, a Florida judge in Leon County, recently ruled that District 5 and District 10 violated the constitutional provision on congressional redistricting and ordered the Florida Legislature to draw a new congressional map in compliance with Florida’s Constitution.
Judge Lewis ruled in Romo v. Detzner that Districts 5 and 10 violated Article III Section 20 of Florida’s Constitution. Care to comment on that and what the Florida Legislature should do differently during the redistricting process?
Even the Florida Legislature did not object to that ruling. If you physically looked at the changes that had been made, it was easy to see how they took from one district and gave to another. The Judge also received so much testimony that political consultants had been involved in the process that it would have been difficult for him to not rule that those districts violated Florida’s Constitution. Under Florida’s Constitutional Tier 1 standards, districts must be partisan and incumbent neutral, must protect the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process, cannot diminish
a minoritie ies’ ’ ability to elect representatives of their choice, and must consist of a contiguous territory. The Tier 2 standards require districts to be compact, nearly equal in population size, and to apply existing political and geographical boundaries.
A positive result of this lawsuit is that there will be no behind the scenes role for political consultants. The process will be more transparent in the future. Both Republicans and Democrats had to acknowledge that they had used political consultants to draw maps. The Florida Legislature will have to pay attention to who is involved in the redistricting process. However, you cannot take politics out of this process. It doesn’t really matter if you have redistricting commissions because someone appoints them and there is politics behind the appointments. States with redistricting commissions have had lawsuits regarding redistricting as well.
Florida faces problems in redistricting because people are choosing to live in neighborhoods with like-minded individuals. You cannot assume that the partisan make up of Florida at large is uniform geographically across counties or cities. It would be hard to draw a heavily Republican district in Broward County or a heavily Democratic one in Naples. Residential patterns make it difficult to draw districts proportionate to the political make up of Florida. People are so desperate for change and more competition that Fair District’s arguments and standards seem very logical but these standards are very difficult to implement.
Article III Section 20 of the Florida Constitution sets out the standard for establishing congressional districts. What are your thoughts on Article III Section 20? What is the most difficult criterion to meet?
They lay out the standard but no implementation language or definitions. During the redistricting amendments battle, I constantly pointed out to groups that some of these standards conflict with each other. If you studied it carefully, you could see the potential for conflict with Tier 1 standards and the Voting Rights Act. Also, most people were outraged at the map and the weird shaped district. Yet, most people did not understand the historical context in which that district was drawn. I was an expert witness regarding the congressional plan that was passed in 1992, which yielded three black Congress members. The courts as well as the Department of Justice were pretty much telling states that you had to draw majority-minority districts in order to get your plan pre-cleared. Most people didn’t understand the Voting Rights Act and the interpretation of it at the time the districts were drawn. The compactness standard was the most difficult to meet because people didn’t understand why non-compact districts were drawn in the past.
The other issue is the huge philosophical divide concerning what percent minority is needed in a district to allow that group to elect a candidate of their choice. For many the candidate of one’s own choice has been interpreted to mean someone who shares one’s race, not just electing someone who is sympathetic to a minority group’s interests. Even within the black legislative ranks there were differences in opinion as to what percentage was needed. In some parts of Florida, blacks have been successfully elected in districts with fewer than majority-minority black registration.
Why didn’t the Florida Legislature create an east-west district across North Florida from Jacksonville to Tallahassee?
Corrine Brown, whose district was under siege in the case, was against the percentage of blacks being reduced in her district. She went back to the 1992 context and said we didn’t have any black districts before the majority-minority concept was put into place. The irony is that the NAACP of Florida came out in favor of the Fair Districts amendments because the pledge was in there that minority voting rights would basically have no retrogression. Yet, when it came to Fair District’s proposal for an east-west district that was more compact, not only was Corrine Brown vehemently against it but so were the Congressional Black Caucus and the NAACP of Florida because the east-west district did not ensure a black candidate’s success. They turned against the Fair Districts people and basically said this is just a plan to help Democrats and not to improve black representation.
Also, North Florida black legislators voted for the revised redistricting plan that was ultimately approved but South Florida black legislators voted against it and, thus, for the Fair Districts position. There is a split between minority legislative members themselves regarding the threshold requirements. South Florida black legislators, who felt that an east-west district might have ultimately yielded two black congressional members from that part of the state, are looking at the long-term picture. They think that you can only expand minority representation without the majority-minority requirement. South Florida black legislators have been elected without majority-minority districts. On the other hand, North Florida black legislators don’t want to lose representation now. They would rather have one member now than possibly two members later.
Will the revised congressional map create more competition in Districts 5 and 10?
Maybe Webster’s District more than Brown’s District. You cannot erase the personal clout of Corrine Brown and her ability to win regardless. I don’t know if the map will yield more competition, but it is possible once those two are no longer there. The personality of people in the short term may spell lack of competition, but if those two were to step aside, it might lead to more competition. But then is it the open seat or just the configuration of the district that will yield more competition?
Judge Lewis ruled that the revised congressional map would not apply to the upcoming midterm elections. Thus, voters will cast ballots in unconstitutional districts. Should the revised congressional map have been used immediately?
This was a big controversy. There was a conflict with federal laws. Federal overseas voting laws require ballots to be sent overseas at a certain time. It looked like it was going to be impossible to meet this deadline. First, Plaintiffs suggested having a special election, but the Supervisor of Elections said it would be impossible because it would cause them to be in violation of other voting rules. The Plaintiffs never showed that the election could be successfully held under the revised map. Interestingly, the NAACP leaders in several rural counties in District 5 and in general argued that moving it to a special election was practically retrogression, though they did not use that term. Minority turnout in a special election is normally very low. They also argued that delaying it would be confusing to minority voters.