This week will witness a rather unusual event in Florida government: an August special legislative session.
A memo issued Monday announces that the Florida House and Senate are calling themselves into special session to address what Speaker Weatherford and President Gaetz called “the Court’s limited concerns” about the congressional district map produced by the Legislature after the 2010 census.
Well, yes, limited in the sense that only two congressional districts were found to be unconstitutional (under the state constitution) out of the 23 we have. If this was an assignment for my class, at 91.4% success, I’d give it an AB . . . maybe even an A.
Except . . . that’s the grade the product would earn. But process also matters.
I have a very strict standard when it comes to what in higher ed is called “academic integrity.” I expect my students to do their own work unless I expressly authorize collaboration (which I do at times). I expect my students to disclose the sources of their information and ideas, giving credit where credit is due, according to certain standards established in the field. Those are basic, and obvious, expectations of integrity.
According to Judge Lewis, some of those basic, and obvious, expectations with regard to redistricting were violated by the Florida Legislature in the crafting of the current congressional district map.
The best possible outcome for a student who had committed such offenses in my classroom would be a “do-over” with strict additional requirements to ensure the process, as well as the product, was appropriate to the task.
To the Legislature’s credit, this appears to be precisely the approach the leadership has adopted (now that Judge Lewis has compelled them to redo the maps). Official directives have gone to every House and Senate member about records preservation. The list is exhaustive . . . but nothing any elected municipal official hasn’t been expected to do for at least a few years.
The Legislature’s challenge is a complicated one. It is likely that many (most?) legislators will wish to fix the problem with the minimum of effect on other districts. But any effect will throw the elections for those districts into disarray as well. Given the criticisms leveled by Judge Lewis against these two districts, I find it highly improbable that their defects can be remedied without changing other district lines. The more districts at risk, the more personal ambitions that will be affected, and the greater the difficulty of resolving the controversy.
That makes the August 15deadline all the more daunting. Meeting that deadline will demand of House and Senate members tremendous focus and a willingness to seek the best viable solution rather than pursue any particular personal agendas (which was, after all, the point of the Fair Districts Amendment in the first place).
Either that, or it will require the exercise of considerable political “clout” by the powers that be.
When and how the actual elections will take place for these congressional districts remains unclear. Everyone agrees that there isn’t an obvious “best” solution. Every alternative does harm in some way to the integrity of a voting process that should ensure equal rights for all citizens.
Which is a variation of the lesson I try to teach my students when they stray into the realm of unethical conduct.
We ought to want to do what’s right because . . . well, because it’s the right thing to do.
But if we don’t make the effort to do it right, we’ll have to figure out how to do it over