By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida legislators, stymied in repeated efforts to draw congressional districts that meet a constitutional anti-gerrymandering rule, took their standoff before a circuit judge Tuesday.
Florida's congressional map was invalidated in July by the state Supreme Court, creating political uncertainty across much of Florida heading into the 2016 elections, when it is expected to be the largest swing state in the presidential race.
Republicans dominate Florida's congressional delegation by a 17 to 10 margin, as well as its legislature and statewide offices, but voters there twice helped to elect President Barack Obama.
Florida's House asked Judge Terry Lewis to decide whether its version of redistricting complies with the state constitution better than a Senate plan. The state Senate, meanwhile, wants the courts to hold off while lawmakers try a third special session on remapping Florida’s 27 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At the five-minute hearing Lewis said he will ask the state Supreme Court if he should go ahead and draw the maps or let the Legislature try again. "I don’t feel I have the authority to do anything," he said.
A two-week special session ended in a standoff last Friday when the House refused to extend it into this week.
Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, who Lewis ruled last year violated a 2010 “Fair Districts Florida” constitutional amendment forbidding any favoritism towards incumbents or either political party in drawing legislative and congressional districts.
The Legislature had a special session last year to adjust two central Florida districts that Lewis rejected, but his ruling was appealed and the state Supreme Court ruled on July 9 that eight districts must be redrawn.
In this month’s special session, the House approved a plan that was drawn by legislative staff attorneys – tailored to the Supreme Court ruling – while the Senate altered the lines in the Tampa Bay area.
Each side held out for its version of the congressional map as the session ended on Friday.
House Speaker, Republican Steve Crisafulli, asked the Supreme Court on Monday to relinquish jurisdiction to Lewis for 60 days so he could examine the competing maps. Senate President, Republican Andy Gardiner, said he would prefer legislators to try again in another special session.
Legislators already have another session scheduled for Oct. 19 to redraw state Senate districts. That would be a few days beyond the Supreme Court’s deadline for Lewis to review the maps.
(Editing by David Adams, Andrew Hay and Bernard Orr)