As lawmakers head into a special legislative session this month, Secretary of State Laurel Lee is asking a federal court to stay a case that argues judges should define Florida’s new congressional districts.
Lee filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee seeking a stay of a federal lawsuit filed March 11 by the groups Common Cause Florida and FairDistricts Now and five voters.
The motion came three days after Governor Ron DeSantis called a special legislative session from April 19-22 to try to reach an agreement on new congressional districts as part of the decade-long redistribution process.
Lee’s attorneys also pointed to a similar lawsuit filed last month in state court in Leon County. They said the state court — rather than the federal court — should handle the redistribution if the Legislature does not produce a Congressional card.
The motion stated that “all three branches of state government are currently and will be dealing with redistribution.”
“A reprieve is appropriate to allow the political branches to do their job,” the motion reads. “After all, the Florida Legislature is constitutionally responsible for redistributing the state’s congressional districts.”
The state and federal lawsuits were filed after DeSantis said he would veto a congressional redistricting plan passed by the Legislative Assembly. The plaintiffs argued, in part, that a standoff between DeSantis and lawmakers was damaging the chances of reaching an agreement on a map — and that judges should step in to ensure revamped districts are defined before the election of This year.
DeSantis vetoed the legislative plan on Tuesday, while calling the special session.
In a document filed Thursday, the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit indicated they would oppose a stay. The document states that the plaintiffs and a group of potential intervenors in the case “believe that the legislative deadlock, which began this action, remains the status quo. Based on public statements by the Governor and the Legislature, there is no reason to believe that the positions of the Legislature or the Governor have changed, nor to expect the impasse to be resolved when the extraordinary session convened from 19 to 22 April. 2022. In the view of plaintiffs and proposed interveners, time is running out and the (federal) court should be ready to put a map in place as soon as possible after the close of the special session.
The Federal Court is scheduled to hold a case management conference on Monday that will likely involve a series of timing issues and other procedural issues in the case.
Last month, William Pryor, Chief Justice of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, appointed U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, U.S. District Judge Mr. Casey Rodgers and Appeals Judge Adalberto Jordan to handle the trial. Pryor wrote that federal law requires a three-judge panel in such situations, although the panel may decide later that it should not have been appointed.
The plaintiffs filed a motion Tuesday asking Winsor to drop out of the case because he represented the Florida House on a series of redistricting issues from 2005 to 2013 while an attorney in private practice.
In a response Friday, Lee’s attorneys disputed whether Winsor should recuse himself from the case. Lee is the named defendant in the federal lawsuit after DeSantis and the legislative leaders were dropped as defendants.
“Specifically, Judge Winsor was not an attorney in this case regarding Florida’s need for a new congressional map due to the 2020 decennial census results,” Lee said in his response. “Rather, Judge Winsor has acted as counsel in different cases, long since resolved, none of which involve misdistribution or misdistribution based on the 2020 decennial census.”