Florida Republicans broke the law when they drew congressional district lines to favor their party, a judge ruled late Thursday.
In a scathing opinion, Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said political operatives working for the Republican-controlled legislature in 2012 had “made a mockery” of the redistricting process through a “secret, organized campaign,” and had gone “to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it.”
The operatives wrote “scripts” to use at public hearings, that were aimed at covering their tracks, according to the judge.
The Supreme Court has said it has no problem with partisan gerrymandering. But Lewis found that two districts in Florida, the 5th and the 10th, violated two state constitutional amendments, passed by voters in 2010, that were aimed at limiting politically motivated gerrymandering.
Those districts—one held by Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat, the other by Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican—will need to be redrawn, as will several neighboring districts affected by the change. But the legislature is expected to appeal—it said in a statement it was studying the ruling—meaning it’s likely that the November midterm elections will be held under the current map.
A coalition of groups led by the League of Women Voters brought the suit.
The Florida GOP’s gerrymandering was among the most severe in the country. Republicans hold 17 of the state’s 27 congressional seats, even though Democrats won nearly half of all votes in the state’s congressional races in 2012. Other Republican-controlled states, including Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan, also were heavily gerrymandered—with the result that the GOP holds a 35-seat advantage in the U.S. House, even though Democrats won over 1 million more votes in congressional races.
The Supreme Court is set to hear a case about whether Alabama’s congressional district map violates the Voting Rights Act by cramming minorities into a few districts in order to reduce their influence.