Florida’s Fifth Congressional District is quite a sight to behold. Beginning in Jacksonville, it runs south all the way to the outer edges of Orlando, also managing to scoop up part of Gainesville on the way. The District twists and turns, becoming very narrow and then very wide, so that one must wonder, what could be the motivation behind such an oddly shaped district? Unsurprisingly, the answer is gerrymandering. Unfortunately, the 5th District is an example of gerrymandering at its worst but there is hope. The shape of the 5th District may be changing very soon, but, in the meantime, nobody in either major political party will likely be happy with the district and average citizens are hurting when their community interests are not fairly represented.
Despite two state constitutional amendments that forbid gerrymandering, the Florida state legislature has struggled since 2010 to redraw the 5th District. Specifically, the legislature has failed to comply with the constitutional demand that:
“No… district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying… the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities… and districts shall consist of contiguous territory… [and] districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries.”
Republicans claimed that the district’s strange shape was necessary to maintain a Voting Rights Act mandated majority-minority district, while critics claimed partisan motives influenced the District’s shape. Republicans were accused of packing the district with minorities (mostly Democrats) to increase Republican representation in the surrounding areas. This past July, after the state legislature’s third attempt to draw new congressional districts failed, the Florida Supreme Court again invalidated the map, citing the 5th District, among others, as one of the principle gerrymandering offenders. Although the court’s ruling seemed like good news, the headache over the 5th District continues.
When the Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling in July it suggested that the 5th District be redrawn with an east-west orientation, instead of the current north-south orientation. The new east-west district looked like it would solve the Fifth District’s compactness issues, but just a few days ago, on September 29, 2015, audio files leaked that Republicans in the state legislature intentionally attempted to include many prisons, and thus many disenfranchised minority citizens, into its new version of District 5 in an attempt to unseat current District 5 Representative Corrine Brown. Brown sharply criticized the actions of the state legislature, filed a federal lawsuit, and called these actions a blatant attempt to eliminate minority representation in violation of the Voting Rights Act. However, the actions, or lack thereof, of Brown’s own party indicate the strength of the merits of her argument. Democrats have not supported Brown in her fight against the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling and have in fact supported actions to redraw the congressional districts. Their reaction suggests that Brown’s motivations are driven by personal career concerns rather than by important racial issues intertwined with redrawing District 5.
As the saga over redistricting drags on and on, at the end of the day it seems like the fight over the 5th Congressional District is really only about selfish interests. Republicans and Democrats continue trying to manipulate the District in a way that can lead to each respective party maintaining the largest possible number of house seats, while Representative Corrine Brown is interested only in protecting her incumbent seat. As a result, the minority citizens of northern Florida are hurt. Minority interests are not adequately served in an illegitimately drawn district where minority votes seem purposefully diluted, but no one in power appears willing or able to help them.