It is a disgrace that, half a century after the hard-won Voting Rights Act became law, efforts still persist to make it as difficult as possible for Americans to elect the government of our choice. In the case of Florida, one such effort has meant blatant rigging of congressional boundaries by the Republican-controlled Legislature in defiance of the Florida Constitution. The irony is that the state’s delegation to Washington comprises 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats, even though President Barack Obama twice won Florida.
Circuit Judge Terry Lewis has put an end to this dirty trick. Last month, he ruled that two districts were drawn to benefit Republicans in violation of a constitutional amendment that bans such a practice. The judge on Friday went further, ordering the Legislature to draw up a new congressional map by Aug. 15.
Under pressure from the NAACP and the League of Women Voters and others, now, Judge Lewis, House Speaker Will Weatherford has called a special session starting this Thursday. But, in typical GOP style, he is resisting using the proposed new map in the primary election on Aug. 26. He is also opposing any call for a special election this year.
But complaints against the gerrymandering date back at least two years when the first lawsuits were filed against the two most egregious examples of rigged districts, one of which is currently held by Democrat Corrine Brown and the other a central Florida district held by Republican Dan Webster. Judge Lewis agreed with the argument by a coalition which sued the Legislature that the boundaries of Rep. Brown’s district were drawn so as to lump Democrats together and make it easier for Republicans in adjoining districts to win.
But there is more to this issue than just fairness to Democrats. Any new boundaries must ensure that African Americans are not locked out of Congress, as is largely the case now. Blacks are some 17 percent of Florida’s population but occupy only three of the 27 congressional seats. That is an aberration that must be corrected promptly.