Two Republican officials have filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida claiming that their First Amendment right to "partisan thought" was being violated by laws designed to prevent gerrymandering.
Pasco County Republican Party Chair Randy Maggard and Walton County Chair Tim Norris filed suit in the Pensacola division of the Northern District of Florida, just weeks before a special legislative session is set to redraw congressional districts in the state, Politico reported.
In a ruling last month, the Florida Supreme Court said that eight or more congressional districts violated a 2010 “Fair Districts” amendment to the state constitution. The voter-approved amendment requires that lawmakers draw districts without favoring political parties or incumbents.
Maggard and Norris assert in their lawsuit that the state infringed on lawmakers' First Amendment right to free speech after Circuit Judge Terry Lewis struck down 2010 redistricting in a scathing ruling.
According to Lewis, Republican operatives wrote scripts for people who attended public hearings and used other tactics to influence the redistricting process in a way that would benefit the Republican Party.
“They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting by doing all of this in the shadow of that process,” Lewis wrote, adding that the operatives "went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan and their participation in it."
A 5-2 Florida Supreme Court ruling later upheld Lewis' decision.
To prevent the problem in the future, leaders in the Florida legislature advised lawmakers to avoid communications that "might be construed to reflect an intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent." Maggard and Norris claim that this is a violation of their free speech rights.
“If Plaintiffs dare to speak about their partisan concerns about the map, the exact object of their concerns must be rejected by the Legislature in order to comply with the Challenged Clauses,” the suit declares. “Put another way, if the Plaintiffs attempt to exercise their right to petition the Legislature about their views on the partisan impact of the map, the Florida Supreme Court requires their views to be disregarded and rejected.”
“The Challenged Clauses have resulted in a government attempt to eliminate all speech by persons who might convey an impermissibly ‘partisan thought’ to a legislator or legislative staffer that could subsequently impact the redistricting process,” the suit continues. “The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected precisely this type of government ‘thought policing.’”