The Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the state's congressional maps don't meet the requirements of a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits political lines from being drawn to favor incumbents or a political party. The court ordered the Legislature to try drawing the maps again.
The ruling means there could be an upheaval as incumbents seek re-election and candidates from both parties seek to fill open seats. Florida has 27 congressional districts and the ruling could affect 22 of them. The court ordered eight districts be redrawn, but in doing so, 14 districts that border might also have to be changed.
The court told the Legislature to act swiftly since qualifying for congressional races is approaching. Candidates must file their paperwork to get on the 2016 ballot during the first week in May.
The court chastised the Republican-led Legislature for working behind the scenes to draw the maps.
"The Legislature itself proclaimed that it would conduct the most open and transparent redistricting process in the history of the state, and then made important decisions, affecting numerous districts in the enacted map, outside the purview of public scrutiny,'' the ruling said.
The ruling will affect districts held by Democratic Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel and Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and David Jolly.
Florida has 17 Republican U.S. House members and 10 Democrats despite Democrats having an advantage in voter registration. Florida has 4.6 million Democrats and 4.2 million Republicans.
A coalition that included the League of Women Voters challenged the lines, saying Republicans who drew them up ignored the new constitutional requirements approved by voters in 2010. A lower court agreed that GOP leaders and operatives made a mockery of the amendment, but only ordered two central Florida districts be redrawn.
The Supreme Court said that wasn't good enough.
"This is a complete victory for the people of Florida who passed the Fair Districts Amendment. The court has made it abundantly clear that partisan gerrymandering will not be tolerated. We look forward to the legislature following the constitution and the directives of the court,'' said David King, a lawyer for the coalition.
Republicans have maintained that the maps adhere to constitutional requirements despite evidence that political operatives helped draw them.
It's yet to be seen how the ruling will affect the majority of Florida's members of Congress who are seeking re-election, as well as their challengers.