Detzner appeals in Brown redistricting case

By Jim Saunders
The News Service of Florida

In another twist in Florida’s redistricting legal saga, Secretary of State Ken Detzner will ask a federal appeals court to dismiss him from a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown that challenges her redrawn district.

Detzner’s attorney filed a notice last week that said the secretary of state is appealing a district-court ruling that kept him as a defendant in Brown’s lawsuit, which argues that a new redistricting plan violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

The secretary of state, Florida’s chief elections officer, has contended for months that he is legally shielded from being a defendant in the case. A document filed in September, for example, said Detzner, “as a matter of law, is not responsible for congressional redistricting — that is uniquely a legislative function.”

But a three-judge panel handling Brown’s case in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee rejected Detzner’s argument that he should be dismissed from the case.

That ruling last month said, in part, that “Congresswoman Brown is not suing Detzner merely because he sits nominally at the top of an agency far removed from any challenged conduct. She is challenging the implementation and enforcement of congressional districts allegedly drawn in violation of federal law. As secretary of state, Detzner is connected to and responsible for many aspects of elections in Florida, including maintaining uniformity in the interpretation and implementation of Florida’s election laws … registering voters … bringing actions against local election officials to enforce Florida election law … gathering information on voting irregularities … and certifying the qualifications and nominations of candidates for office.”

The notice of appeal filed last week does not provide detailed arguments, but it cites the district-court ruling. The issue will go to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

The Florida Supreme Court in December approved new congressional districts after a long — and often-messy — legal fight stemming from arguments that the Legislature violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” redistricting standards approved by voters in 2010.

Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, has played a high-profile role in the debate as she has sought to block major changes to her district, which has stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando. Under the plan approved by the Supreme Court, the district will change dramatically, running from Jacksonville to Gadsden County, west of Tallahassee.

The longtime congresswoman argues that the new east-west configuration of the district could violate the Voting Rights Act because it would diminish the opportunity for Black voters to elect a candidate of their choice. She initially filed the lawsuit in August, naming Detzner and the Legislature as defendants. The case was put on hold in September and then moved forward after the Supreme Court decision in December.

The federal district court has said a hearing could be held March 25, if needed.