Court approves state legislative redistricting maps

-Summary by Anna Lusk

On March 3rd, the Supreme Court of Florida considered whether the Florida legislature had properly reapportioned the Florida’s House and Senate districts after the last census. The Court declared that the apportionment plans were valid.

The Court notes that this case is unusual because there are no parties challenging the apportionment plans. Because of this, the Court is simply charged with determining the validity of the apportionment plans as required under Art. III, section 16(c) of the Florida Constitution. The Court is also required to grant the apportionment plan the “presumption of validity”, since it has no challengers. See Apportionment I, 83 So. 3d at 606. Moreover, the Court states that the legislature does not have to prove the validity of the apportionment plan, since there are no challengers. In re Senate Joint Resolution of Legislative Apportionment 2-B (Apportionment II), 89 So. 3d 872, 881 (Fla. 2012). The Court further notes its discretion is limited by the powers of the legislature under set by the Florida Constitution.

In making its decision, the court centered its focus on Article III, section 21 of the Florida Constitution, which lays out the standards for establishing legislative district boundaries. Article III, section 21 notes two separate tiers of standards the Court should use in determining an apportionment plan’s validity. The Court first addressed the tier-two standards, which require that the apportionment plans be “as nearly equal in population as is practicable.” Art. III section 21(b). The Court looked at census data to determine that the population deviations between apportioned districts was not significant enough to be considered unequal. Tier-two also requires that the districts shall be compact. Art. III section 21(b). The Court noted that visually, the new district apportionments are more compact than that of prior years. Lastly, tier-two requires that, where feasible, districts should utilize existing political and geographical boundaries. Art. III, section 21(b). The Court found that this year’s district boundaries coincided with political and geographical boundaries more than the prior approved apportionment plan.

Finally, the Court turned to tier-one analysis. Tier-one protects racial and language minority voting rights and prohibits political favoritism. Art. III, section 21(a). The minority voting standards proscribe two types of discrimination: “impermissible vote dilution” and “impermissible diminishment of a minority group’s ability to elect a candidate of its choice.” Apportionment I, 83 So. 3d at 619. The Court concluded, upon reviewing census data, that it had no evidence to rule that the legislature engaged in these impermissible strategies of discrimination. Lastly, the tier-one standard that “no apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent.” Art. III, section 16(a). The Court found no evidence to suggest the legislature may have drawn the district lines to favor or disfavor and political party. Therefore, the 2022 apportionment plans were approved by the Florida Supreme Court.