BY BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
TALLAHASSEE – Arguing that an east-west configuration for her district “combines far-flung communities worlds apart culturally and geographically,” lawyers for U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown asked a federal judge Tuesday to void Florida’s latest congressional redistricting plan.
The complaint continues a legal battle over the state’s political boundaries that has raged for nearly four years. The first two drafts of a congressional plan – approved by the Legislature in 2012 and tweaked in 2014 –were thrown out by state courts for violating a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering.
But the reorientation of Brown’s congressional district, which has long ambled from Jacksonville to Orlando but now would run from Jacksonville in the east to Gadsden County in the west, prompted the Democratic congresswoman to file suit this year against the change. After the Florida Supreme Court officially approved the new district early this month, Brown was allowed to update her case Tuesday.
“Black voters have reaped substantial benefits by being in a district in which they can elect a candidate of their choice, including having a representative who understands the needs of the community she represents, brings infrastructure money to the district, helps Black residents obtain government contracts, brings job fairs to the district, and is very accessible to her constituents,” the complaint says.
Brown’s Jacksonville-to-Orlando seat has long been at the center of conflicts in Florida over gerrymandered districts. Critics see it as an attempt to aid Republican campaigns, especially those in Central Florida, by concentrating African-American Democratic voters in a single district. But supporters say it ensures those voters the chance to elect a candidate of their choice.
Black justices critical
The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the updated district would allow Blackvoters to dominate the Democratic primary and that the district’s Democratic tilt means that candidates favored by Blacks should be able to be re-elected.
The court’s two Black members also sharply rebuked Brown, though not by name, in the opinion early this month. Brown had compared the changes in her district to slavery during a press conference.
“The efforts to paint this process as partisan or invoke the antebellum period are an unjustified attack on the integrity of our judicial system,” wrote Justice James E.C. Perry, in an opinion joined by Justice Peggy Quince.
“…Originally, the right to vote was limited to White male landowners. Others had to fight and die for the privilege to be extended to them. It is an insult to their struggle for politicians to now use that sacrifice for personal benefit.”