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Groups appeal Florida congressional maps, but give OK to 2014 vote

By Bill Cotterell

TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - A coalition of voters rights organizations that successfully sued Florida over gerrymandering is appealing the state's newly redrawn congressional districting maps, though it will not protest use of the new boundaries in the November elections, according to court filings on Friday.

Instead, the coalition asked the Second District Court of Appeal to bump the case to the Florida Supreme Court, so it can be settled by the 2016 elections.

Last week, Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis approved the changes made to Florida's congressional maps in a hastily convened special legislative session earlier in August.

The maps were redrawn after Lewis ruled in July that Republican leaders had conspired to rig the boundaries to protect the party's majority in Washington. Their 2012 maps "made a mockery" of anti-gerrymandering provisions in the state's constitution, he said.

Lewis invalidated two of the state's 27 congressional districts. He found that lawmakers had packed black voters into an oddly shaped district extending from Jacksonville to Orlando to benefit Democrat Corrine Brown of Jacksonville, and crafted a white and conservative district for Daniel Webster, an Orlando-area Republican.

To fix the maps, Republican legislative leaders made mostly minor changes affecting seven congressional districts.

The revisions failed to satisfy the plaintiffs, a group led by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and several individual voters.

They had submitted their own proposed maps, which legislative leaders ignored during their special session.

After holding out the possibility of election delays, Lewis sided with legislative leaders and approved their redrawn maps.

   In their notice of appeal, the plaintiffs said Lewis's ruling “did not address the remedy” that they had recommended as an alternative to the approved plan, which they continue to oppose.

   However, the notice said, the plaintiffs “will not be seeking in this appeal to alter the 2014 congressional elections.”

Initially, the plaintiffs wanted a special election this year so voters would not have to elect representatives from unconstitutional boundaries.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by David Adams and Mohammad Zargham)

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