Fla. judge orders new congressional lines

NP-StateNewsA Florida judge Friday ordered legislators to hold a special session to draw up a new congressional map for the state after the old one was ruled to be illegal.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis ruled that the Florida Legislature must draw up new congressional districts by Aug. 15. Lewis said he will then consider whether to order a special election later this year under this new map.

Lewis in July ruled that the current districts are illegal because they were drawn to benefit the Republican Party. Voters in 2010 passed the “Fair Districts” amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party. His July ruling sparked a legal battle over what to do since Florida’s primary election is scheduled for Aug. 26.

The groups who challenged the current districts wanted Lewis to adopt a new map and adjust this year’s election schedule. But legislative leaders said the state’s current districts should be kept in place to avoid disrupting the 2014 elections.

In his ruling, Lewis said he found the arguments from legislative lawyers “more sensible” and he agreed that the Legislature should be responsible for redrawing Florida’s congressional districts.

But he said he could not at this time push off a new map until 2016. Lewis said to do so would be telling voters “they have been deprived of the equal right of having a say in who represents their interests in Congress for two years.”

There was no immediate reaction on the ruling from the Legislature. A spokesman for House Speaker Will Weatherford said the House was reviewing the decision.

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