BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – When the Florida Supreme Court considered a dramatic change to the shape of Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s district last year, she promised to “go all the way to the United States Supreme Court” if necessary to preserve her electoral territory.
Brown has made good on her promise. On Monday, the 12-term congresswoman appealed to the nation’s highest court in an effort to unwind a plan to rotate her district from a north-south orientation that includes her power bases of Jacksonville and Orlando to an east-west seat that stretches from Jacksonville to Gadsden County, carving up Tallahassee along the way.
Brown’s move came about a week after a three-judge panel based in Tallahassee upheld the new redistricting plan, ordered by the Florida Supreme Court last year in a landmark decision about a voter-approved ban on congressional gerrymandering. Brown has contended that the new map will not give African-American voters a chance to elect a candidate of their choice – something denied by supporters of the plan.
The brief notice of appeal does not include reasons for the decision to go the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brown has so far been coy about her legal strategy, saying only that she was considering her options and would run in the 5th Congressional District regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case.
Redistricting cases like Brown’s go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.
Brown has said she was “disappointed” with the decision by the three-judge panel, but her reaction has been muted compared to her previous statements whenever the district’s future was called into question.
Margin doesn’t matter
Last week, the federal court rejected the argument by Brown and some of her constituents that the redrawn district – which President Obama won by more than 28 points in 2012 – would not give African-American voters an opportunity to decide the congressional election. That opportunity is a requirement of federal civil rights law and the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendment backed by voters in 2010.
“Although the victory percentages may drop slightly from those in the north-south configuration, the evidence demonstrates that black-preferred candidates should generally continue to win east-west District 5 with about 60 percent of the vote,” said the opinion, signed by judges Robin Rosenbaum, Robert Hinkle and Mark Walker. “And a win is a win, regardless of the margin of victory.”
The fallout of the decision has already been felt. Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Graham, whose neighboring 2nd Congressional District would become far more Republican under the redistricting plan, announced she will give up her seat to consider a run for governor in 2018. Al Lawson, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate from Tallahassee, has launched a primary challenge against Brown.