“Reapportionment is existential,” Jon Mills, the former Democratic speaker of the Florida House, told me. “It’s personal for everybody.” Mills, who has worked on redistricting issues as a lawyer and law professor at the University of Florida, recalled when it was Democrats who controlled the legislature and were forced to redraw districts in the early 1990s. “It doesn’t matter who’s in control. It’s difficult for anybody,” Mills said. “And for those in control, they’re going to get blamed.”
The House and Senate each came up with their own proposed map for Florida’s 27 congressional districts, but the chambers couldn’t agree on a compromise. Democrats are expected to gain one or two seats based on population changes from the census regardless of how Republicans draw the maps, meaning that at least one Republican congressional incumbent would lose his or her district. The map approved by the state Senate, for example, moved the line of the 15th House district so that its current GOP representative, Dennis Ross, now lives outside it by just a couple dozen feet. To stay in Congress, Ross would likely have to face another Republican, Representative Tom Rooney, in next year’s election.
But the House refused to budge on its own proposal, resulting in an impasse. The chambers can’t even decide who should draw the map at this point; the House wants the court to do it, while the Senate doesn’t want to give up the legislature’s power to determine congressional districts. The matter is now back before the Florida Supreme Court, which could decide to pick one of the two proposals, appoint an independent body to draw a map, or just do the thing itself. The court could also order the legislature back into another special session to meet its October deadline.
A major complicating factor in reapportioning Florida’s districts is race. For nearly a quarter century, the state has had three majority-minority districts and three African American members in its congressional delegation. Yet one of the districts invalidated by the court earlier this summer was the snake-shaped fifth district represented since 1993 by Corrine Brown. Under the latest Senate proposal, Brown’s district would be radically changed, almost like a lever pulled 90 degrees upward. Where it now begins in Jacksonville near the northeast corner of the state and drops south in a jagged line toward Orlando, the new map would make it shoot west from Jacksonville toward Tallahassee along the northern border with Georgia. (The Orlando Sentinel has a good illustration here.) Brown has accused the Senate of intentionally seeking to dilute the power of African Americans by moving the district so far north, and she’s already filed a federal suit to prevent the Florida courts from requiring a new congressional map that violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.