Court Strikes 3 Proposed Amendments from Ballot; Legislative Redistricting, Property Tax Measures Are Removed; So Is a Bid to Challenge the Federal Health Care Law

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court sliced three proposed constitutional amendments from the ballot Tuesday and threw out a challenge to two more, setting the boundaries for the November vote.

In a series of opinions released Tuesday afternoon, justices struck down a legislative redistricting amendment, a measure challenging the federal health care law and a property tax measure. They also ordered a lower court to dismiss a challenge to a pair of citizen-initiative redistricting proposals, meaning the votes on those measures will go forward.

All three redistricting amendments deal with the rules lawmakers will face when they begin crafting the districts for legislative and congressional districts following the results of the 2010 Census.

Amendments 5 and 6, sponsored by the group Fair Districts Florida, are aimed at barring lawmakers from drawing politically gerrymandered districts. The Legislature countered with its own proposal, Amendment 7, arguing that the citizen proposals could endanger some districts drawn to preserve "communities of interest" or allow minority voters to elect representatives of their choice - a charge Fair Districts denies.

On a 5-2 vote, the court ruled that Amendment 7 would have allowed lawmakers to ignore a long-standing constitutional requirement that districts be contiguous, but that the ballot summary didn't state that.

"This is a matter that should have been clearly and unambiguously stated in the ballot language. Failing this clear explanation, the voters will be unaware of the valuable right - the right to have districts composed of contiguous territory - which may be lost if the amendment is adopted," the majority ruled.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and E.C. Perry joined the majority.

In a dissent, Chief Justice Charles Canady said the majority misread the amendment and was overstepping its bounds.

"The majority's decision unduly interferes with a process that is fundamental to our constitutional system of democratic governance," Canady wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Ricky Polston.

Incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said he respected the court.

"However, it's terribly disappointing to have the work of the legislative branch demolished by a co-equal branch of government, especially when there's no express authority in the constitution for their doing so," he said.

In the case dealing with the citizen amendments, the court ordered the dismissal of a case filed by U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami.

Brown and Diaz-Balart challenged Amendment 6, which deals with congressional districts. Legislators later successfully asked the circuit court hearing the case to add a challenge to Amendment 5, dealing with legislative districts. …