Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Redistricting Secrets Laid Bare

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Redistricting Secrets Laid Bare

Article excerpt

U.S. and Florida high courts reinforce the importance of transparency

It's no wonder that Pat Bainter, a political consultant, and his Data Targeting firm fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to have their emails about redistricting in Florida kept secret.

That's because those messages reinforce previous court rulings that concluded consultants and operatives sought to manipulate and influence -- for political and partisan reasons -- the Florida Legislature's 2011 effort to redraw maps for state and federal legislative districts.

Those efforts overtly ran afoul of amendments to the state constitution, overwhelmingly approved by voters, intended to reform redistricting.

Bainter's attempts to prevent the public from reading the emails have now failed at the highest courts in both Florida and the United States.

Good.

On Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas -- acting on behalf of the U.S. Supreme Court -- rejected an appeal to keep records of the emails sealed.

Thomas' decision lets stand a unanimous ruling issued earlier this month by the Florida Supreme Court. The state's high court had ruled in favor of making 538 pages of records, which had been sealed by a trial judge, open to public inspection.

Justice Barbara Pariente clearly explained the ruling's rationale, writing that "this court is committed to the principle that 'all trials, civil and criminal, are public events and there is a strong presumption of public access to these proceedings and their records.' "

'Mockery' of the process

The sealed records were considered by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis during a trial conducted in Tallahassee. On July 10, Lewis ruled that a number of Republican political operatives "made a mockery of the Legislature's proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting."

Those communications, such as emails and maps presented behind the scenes by those operatives, and other factors led Lewis to declare that two redesigned congressional districts violated the "fair districts" amendment in the state constitution. …

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