Governor enters growing battle over redistricting
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- In a highly unusual move, Gov. Jeb Bush jumped into the middle of the growing legal fight over the Legislature's plan to draw new districts for itself.
In a legal brief filed with the Florida Supreme Court, the Republican governor accused Democratic Attorney General Bob Butterworth of asking the court to assert power reserved for the Legislature.
At issue is Butterworth's own unusual move opposing House and Senate districts created by the Republican Legislature. When Democrats ran the Legislature 10 years ago, Butterworth defended the redistricting plans.
This year, Butterworth questioned the "extremely contorted" lines lawmakers drew and asked the court to force lawmakers to devise objective standards for redistricting.
"The underlying message of the attorney general's submission is that the Legislature is not to be trusted," Bush argued in a brief filed with the court. "The attorney general has made an about-face from the position he advocated to this court in 1992. Now he encourages the court to micromanage what has heretofore been a quintessentially political and legislative process."
That, Bush wrote, amounts to "judicial imperialism."
Lawyers for the House and Senate also urged the court to disregard Butterworth and follow state and federal constitutions.
The new House districts recognize growing Hispanic and African-American populations by increasing opportunities for minorities and creating districts that include 17 that are majority Republican and 37 that are majority Democrat, argued former Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett, who represents the House.
In a separate brief, Senate lawyers called Butterworth's opposition a "curious position" and said the plan meets constitutional requirements.
Redistricting is a "quintessential legislative" function argued former Sen. Jim Scott and Barry Richard, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 election recount battle.
Lawyers for all sides make oral arguments to the court Tuesday. The court then has 30 days to decide whether the districts are legal or order lawmakers back to the drawing board. The court review is mandatory under redistricting laws that come into play every 10 years.
Former House speakers T.K. Wetherell and Ralph Haben, Democrats who handled redistricting in 1992 and 1982, respectively, and former House Speaker John Thrasher, a Republican, also opposed Butterworth's motion. All three now lobby the Legislature for business interests.
Wetherell compared the arguments Butterworth is making with those he made in 1992 defending similar districts.
Butterworth, for example, attacks a district with 30,000 people from Broward County that stretches across the state to Collier County. In 1992 he had no problem with a similar district that linked 20,000 people in Collier County to Miami-Dade County, Wetherell noted.
Butterworth said there is a simple reason for his new stance: Court decisions after 1992 changed the rules. "The law is entirely different than it was," Butterworth said in an interview.
Officials from Lee and Marion counties also asked the court to toss out the new plans because they split them into multiple Senate districts, leaving both counties without the ability to elect senators of their own. Marion is divided into four districts and Lee into three.
Officials in rural Franklin County, southwest of Tallahassee, also filed an objection to the plan because the county has been divided into two House districts.
Pembroke Pines in Broward County also complained that lawmakers divided the city into five separate House districts and three Senate districts stretching coast to coast. Five residents of a House district in the city, however, filed comments supporting the plans.
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