(CN) – A federal judge ruled a new Florida law requiring the legislature to adhere to voter-mandated standards when drawing congressional district lines is not unconstitutional.
In November 2010, Florida voters approved a state constitutional provision establishing standards for congressional redistricting known as Amendment Six.
The standards prohibit the drawing of Congressional district lines that favor or disfavor a particular political party or incumbent, as well as those that might deny or abridge the voting rights of racial or language minorities.
The Amendment also mandates that districts be compact, consist of contiguous territory, and be roughly equal in population.
The day after the Amendment was approved by voters, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown and Mario Diaz-Balart and the Florida House of Representatives sued the Florida Secretary of State, the ACLU of Florida and various intervening parties, claiming Amendment Six violates the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution.
Their two-fold argument for tossing Amendment Six rests primarily on their contention that it was wrongly enacted by citizen initiative rather than by the state’s legislature in the ordinary “legislative process.”
Moreover, they say, even if it had been properly enacted by the state legislature, the amendment’s “substantive requirements” far exceed the body’s Elections Clause power.
All of the parties moved for summary judgment, and in September 2011, the district court ruled in favor of the defendants, a decision the plaintiffs immediately appealed.
Writing on behalf of a three-judge panel, U.S. Circuit Judge Stanley Marcus wrote, “We are unpersuaded.”
“In the first place,” he explained, “the Florida voters’ act of lawmaking according to the state’s expressly enumerated lawmaking process is fully consistent with the commands of the federal Constitution’s Elections Clause, and consonant with the understanding given to the Elections Clause by the Supreme Court in two cases that all parties agree are controlling.
“As for the second claim,” Marcus continued, “we also have little difficulty in concluding that the factors enumerated in Amendment Six have been for many years commonly considered by legislative bodies in congressional redistricting and long accepted by the courts as being lawful and consistent with the powers delegated to the state legislatures by the United States Constitution.”
Ultimately, Marcus wrote, “[t]he fundamental problem with the appellants’ argument is that it says too much and goes too far. If, as the appellants claim, the requirements of Amendment Six exceed the scope of the Elections Clause because they are substantive in nature, then even a state legislature would lack the power to enact a law imposing the very same requirements. But taking this argument to its logical conclusion would mean that no state legislature could decide to consider incumbency, compactness, contiguity, or any of the other Amendment Six factors.
“Under the appellants’ reasoning, apparently there would be no clearly explicated factors that a state legislature could validly consider when redistricting. This is plainly wrong,” Marcus concluded.