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Another divided opinion on redistricting from the Supremes

Florida's redistricting battle has predictably divided the partisans of the Legislature. Now, it appears it has divided the non-partisan ranks of the state's highest court.

In a second divided opinion in two days, the Florida Supreme Court denied a request of the coalition of voters to file an amended proposed redistricting map as part of its brief. The court ruled on a 4-3 vote that the coalition of the League of Women Voters, the National Council of La Raza and Common Cause of Florida may not file an amended map. The swing votes appear to be Justices Labarga and Lewis, who ruled with the majority yesterday when the court ordered the Legislature to submit addresses of incumbent lawmakers as part of its record.

Ruling against the coalition was Justices Canady, Polston, Lewis and Labarga. Ruling in favor of the coalition were Justices Pariente, Quince and Perry. Pariente dissented with an opinion and the others concurred.

At issue is how broad the Supreme Court's review of the case will be.

 "The voters of Florida, through the state constitution, have bestowed upon the Supreme Court of Florida a weighty obligation to determine the validity of the Legislature's joint resolution of legislative apportionment once every ten years,'' Pariente wrote. "Unlike in decades past, this year, the Court has been called upon to, for the first time, interpret and apply a new constitutional amendment that the voters approved in 2010 and which is now codified in article III, section 21, of the Florida Constitution.

"In furtherance of this goal, this Court authorized opponents of the Legislature's joint resolution to file alternative plans for the Court's consideration. Complying with that directive, the Coalition filed an alternative House plan on Friday, February 17, 2012, along with its original submission in opposition to the Legislature's joint resolution. At the time, the Coalition indicated its need to file a substitute House plan. See Brief of the Coalition, at 27 n.13. Now, the Coalition only requests from this Court permission to substitute the alternative House plan it originally filed.

"...At this stage of the original proceeding currently before the Court, alternative plans are not to be used to determine whether the Legislature has adopted the "best plan." Rather, this Court reviews alternative plans submitted by opponents of the Legislature's joint resolution to assess whether the House and Senate plans contained therein are constitutionally valid under the standards enumerated in article III, sections 16(a) and 21, of the Florida Constitution. Given the format in which alternative plans are submitted, review of such plans can be objectively and efficiently undertaken.

"Accordingly, the Coalition's alternative plans are meant to aid, not hinder, the Court in its decision-making process.''