Federal judges take Corrine Brown's district appeal under advisement

Jacksonville congresswoman's lawsuit asks court to block district change

Rep. Corrine Brown talks to supporters at Tallahassee restaurant
Rep. Corrine Brown talks to supporters at Tallahassee restaurant

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.(WJXT) A federal three-judge panel that heard arguments in U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown's legal challenge of Florida's new congressional districts Friday morning said they take her request for a stay under advisement.

Brown and a bus load of supporters are in for the hearing on her legal challenge of Florida's new districts, which redrew her District 5 from running north-south from Jacksonville to Orlando to a district that would force her to run in a dramatically reshaped district stretching across 200 miles of North Florida.

Brown is asking for an injunction, arguing that it violates the federal Voting Rights Act and would harm the ability of black votes to elect a candidate of their choice. She also objects to the number of prisons in the new district. Prisoners add to the census count of black residents in the district, but they can't vote.

Brown's attorney argued that the district change disenfranchises voters. But a representative of the League of Women Voters said there is evidence that is not the case.

The panel said it would allow more evidence to be presented in writing and the court will reconvene on April 4. The LWV will then have a week to respond.

After Friday's hearing, Brown addressed supporters who made the trip to Tallahassee to support her, then answered media questions.

"These are the people I represent," Brown said. "My phone has been blowing up, calls telling me that they're praying for me." 

Asked what she would do if the court doesn't block the move to the new district, Brown was confident.

"Everybody says, 'You can win everywhere.' It's not about me winning. It's about the African-Americans having an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice," Brown said. "When you look at the area from Jacksonville over here, you look at those counties, they don't have an elected official that's African-American. Not one."

The Jacksonville Democrat, who has held her congressional seat for 12 years, is asking the federal court to order the continued use of the old district configuration that extends from Duval to Orange counties and picks up large numbers of black voters. Similar configurations have helped elect Brown to Congress since 1992, though critics have frequently derided them as a classic example of gerrymandering.

The revamped District 5 (pictured) stems from a long-running legal battle waged by the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and other parties. Those groups successfully argued that districts should be redrawn because state lawmakers violated a 2010 anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment commonly known as the "Fair Districts" amendment.

The Florida Supreme Court in December approved a new map that changed Brown's district, along with other districts throughout the state. That came after the Legislature could not agree on how to redraw the map. Brown's challenge focuses only on her district, but a ruling in her favor would likely ripple through the state.

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause and their allies intervened in Brown's federal-court case. They contend, in part, that the new design of Congressional District 5 does not diminish the chances of black voters electing a candidate of their choice. Also, they say Republicans designed the Duval-to-Orange configuration to pack black Democrats into a single district -- helping elect GOP candidates in surrounding districts.

In their arguments, both sides point to districts that they say cover more than 200 miles.

"(Brown's proposed) District 5 employs a series of hooks, tentacles, and appendages to draw African-American population not only from urban areas in Duval, Alachua, Orange, and Seminole counties, but also from rural territory in Marion, Clay, and Putnam counties and areas outside major cities in other counties,'' said a document filed this month by attorneys for Brown's opponents in the case. "The land bridges linking together these disparate communities -- one of which is the mere width of a highway -- produce a district that winds for over 200 miles between Jacksonville and Orlando."


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