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Judge orders Florida lawmakers to redraw congressional maps by Aug. 15

Ruling may force a special session to redraw Florida's 27 congressional districts

The Florida Legislature must submit a revised map of all 27 congressional districts by Aug. 15 and propose a special election to fill those seats, a judge ruled Friday.

The decision by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis is part of the latest battle over the state's redistricting. Lewis ruled July 10 that the state’s congressional redistricting maps are invalid and declared that the way two of the state's districts were drawn was unconstitutional.

The current ruling throws the issue of all of the districts into the hands of the Legislature, which will have to schedule a special session to approve the new maps. Lawmakers have the option, however, to appeal Lewis' timetable to a higher court.

In Friday's ruling, Lewis set the deadline for the new map for no later than noon Aug. 15 and ordered state officials to set a proposed special election schedule as well. Parties have until Aug. 18 to present objections to the new map and oral arguments are set for Aug. 20 if needed.

The ruling against the districts complicates the 2014 congressional elections scheduled for November. In his six-page ruling, Lewis notes that the new map is a first step and that a special election might be possible, though there are other connected legal issues, including whether he would retain jurisdiction over the issue.

The judge also said he had no choice at this point but to seek some remedy.

"The cure should not be worse for the patient than the illness,'' Lewis wrote. "To develop a new map and hold a special election for some congressional representatives would cost more money, would place additional burdens on our election officials and might confuse some voters. On the other hand, to do nothing, when you could, means that you lessen the ability of many citizens to fairly elect representatives of their choice -- which is the effect of political gerrymandered districts."

The League of Women Voters, which joined with other voters groups to file the original lawsuit, said it was pleased.

"This is a champagne moment for Florida voters, who have waited too long for fairly drawn congressional districts," Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said in a statement. "Per his ruling, Judge Lewis has laid out a path that will allow all Florida voters, for the first time in decades, to elect their representatives in fair and constitutional districts."

The groups, which challenged the current districting, argued that it violated the Fair Districts rules approved by voters in 2010. After a 13-day trial, Lewis ruled that the Republican-controlled Legislature allowed "improper partisan intent" to infiltrate the redistricting process.

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