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The validity of a joint resolution of apportionment is determined by examining whether the Legislature has operated within the constitutional limitations placed upon it when apportioning the state's legislative districts. Legislative redistricting is fundamental to ensuring that citizens choose their elected officials in an equitable manner. The right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized. To the extent that a citizen's right to vote is debased, he is that much less a citizen. Since the achieving of fair and effective representation for all citizens is concededly the basic aim of legislative apportionment, the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Const. amend. XIV guarantees the opportunity for equal participation by all voters in the election of state legislators. Diluting the weight of votes because of place of residence impairs basic constitutional rights under the Fourteenth Amendment just as much as invidious discriminations based upon factors such as race.
On February 9, 2012, the Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 1176 (Joint Resolution), apportioning this state into 120 House districts and 40 Senate districts. The next day, the Attorney General fulfilled her constitutional obligation by filing a petition in this Court for a declaratory judgment to determine the validity of the legislative apportionment plans contained within the Joint Resolution.
Was the apportionment plan of the Senate as contained in the Joint Resolution valid under the Florida Constitution?
The Fair Districts Amendment changed the constitutional framework for apportionment, introducing significant reforms in the drawing of legislative districts. Before the passage of the Fair Districts Amendment in 2010, there was no question that the House and Senate plans would have passed constitutional muster and both would have been validated by the Court. The citizens, through our state constitution, have now imposed upon this Court a weighty obligation to measure the Legislature's Joint Resolution with a very specific constitutional yardstick. The constitutional imperatives set forth in article III, sections 16 and 21, of the Florida Constitution were the instructions given to the Legislature by the citizens, mandating how apportionment plans are to be drawn. These instructions were a further expression of the will of this state's citizens to ensure that their right to elect representatives was not frustrated as a result of partisan favoritism or incumbent protection.
The Court interpreted each of the new standards in this opinion, which are set forth in the two tiers of article III, section 21(a), (b). The first tier, contained in section 21(a), listed the following three requirements: (1) no apportionment plan or district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; (2) districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and (3) districts shall consist of contiguous territory. The Florida Constitution prohibited drawing a plan or district with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent; there is no acceptable level of improper intent. By its express terms, Florida's constitutional provision prohibits intent, not effect, and applies to both the apportionment plan as a whole and to each district individually. The minority voting protection provision imposed two requirements that plainly serve to protect racial and language minority voters in Florida: prevention of impermissible vote dilution and prevention of impermissible diminishment of a minority group's ability to elect a candidate of its choice. Finally, districts must be contiguous. The second tier, contained in section 21(b), listed the following three requirements: (1) districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; (2) districts shall be compact; and (3) districts [**241] shall utilize existing political and geographical boundaries where feasible. These requirements circumscribed the Legislature's discretion in drawing district lines to guard against gerrymandering, requiring it to conform to traditional redistricting principles. The Legislature was required to make districts as nearly of equal population as is practicable, but deviations from equal population may be based on compliance with other constitutional standards. Compactness referred to the shape of the district; the goal is to ensure that districts are logically drawn and that bizarrely shaped districts are avoided. Compactness can be evaluated both visually and by employing standard mathematical measurements. As to utilizing political and geographical boundaries, the Court accepted the House's view of geographical boundaries as those that are easily ascertainable and commonly understood, such as "rivers, railways, interstates, and state roads." Strict adherence to these standards must yield if there is a conflict between compliance with them and the tier-one standards. Importantly, the extent to which the Legislature complies with the requirements contained in tier two serves as an objective indicator of impermissible legislative purpose proscribed under tier one (e.g., intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent).
Following these, the Court ruled that Senate Districts 1, 3, 6, 9, 10, 29, 30, and 34 were constitutionally invalid. The Legislature should remedy the constitutional problems with respect to these districts, redrawing these districts and any affected districts in accordance with the standards as defined by this Court, and should conduct the appropriate functional analysis to ensure compliance with the Florida minority voting protection provision as well as the tier-two standards of equal population, compactness, and utilization of existing political and geographical boundaries. As to the City of Lakeland, the Legislature should determine whether it is feasible to utilize the municipal boundaries of Lakeland after applying the standards as defined by this Court. In redrawing the apportionment plan, the Legislature was by no means required to adopt the Coalition's alternative Senate plan. Finally, the numbering scheme of the Senate plan is invalid. Accordingly, the Legislature should renumber the districts in an incumbent-neutral manner.