TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s district is being challenged in a federal lawsuit by two voters who argue it violates their constitutional rights.
WOKV News obtained the amended formal complaint filed Thursday, which alleges that “Florida’s Congressional District 5 is racially gerrymandered in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
This isn’t the first legal challenge to Florida’s districts since they were redrawn in 2012, the first time that lawmakers faced the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters in 2010. One of the two men filing the District 5 lawsuit, William Everett Warinner, is part of an ongoing state lawsuit against the maps and the 2012 Congressional Plan as a whole.
Warinner’s federal lawsuit claims “race played a predominant role in the drawing of Congressional District 5,” citing evidence of an “unjustifiable concentration” of African-American voters, the “bizarre shape” of the district, and its failure “to utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.”
It alleges that Florida’s 5th Congressional District violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and asks that it be redrawn to conform to it. It says Warinner and co-plaintiff James C. Miller Sr. “are reasonably concerned that those issues of state constitutional law will not be resolved in time to achieve effective relief before the 2014 congressional elections.”
According to the complaint, “African-American voters are unnecessarily packed” into the district.” It cites a Black Voting Age Population (“BVAP”) of 50.1%. It contrasts that with the BVAP of nearby congressional districts: 13.2% (District 3), 12.9% (District 4), and 9.1% (District 6).
The lawsuit claims that one of the ways the Florida Legislature packed African-American voters into the district was by “moving a significant part of the African-American population out of the town of Sanford, previously in Congressional District 7, into Congressional District 5. Then, to make up for that population loss, they moved part of Forest City, a subu8rb with an approximately 80% white population, into Congressional District 7.”
The unusual shape of District 5 is a focus of the complaint. “Compactness is a neutral redistricting criterion recognized under both state and federal law” the lawsuit says at the beginning of the section. It then says the District’s shape has all the features that the Florida Supreme Court would refer to as “constitutionally suspect and often indicative of racial and partisan gerrymandering” including “finger-like extensions,” “narrow and bizarrely shaped tentacles,” and “hook-like shapes.”
In an effort to give minority voters a voice, District 5 stretches out across eight counties: Duval, Clay, Putnam, Alachua, Marion, Lake, Seminole, and Orange. The complaint notes that the next highest “county split” in Florida is four.
“Congressional District 5’s failure to utilize existing political and geographical boundaries…indicates that race was a predominant factor in the creation of Congressional District 5,” the lawsuit says.
The defendant named in the case is Secretary of State Ken Detzner. Both of the plaintiffs are registered voters in Gainesville, which is included in Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s district.