On May 15, 2015, private citizens of Jefferson County, Florida filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The plaintiffs sued the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, as well as the Jefferson County School Board and the official director of elections in the county, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs were represented by two public interest groups, the Florida Justice Institute and the ACLU Foundation of Florida. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, asking the court to name the 2013 redistricting plan of Jefferson County unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, asking for an order enjoining the use of the 2013 redistricting plan, and, in the event that the defendants were unable to come up with a plan that was satisfactory, a court-ordered redistricting plan. The plaintiffs also sought attorney’s fees.
Jefferson County, Florida was divided into five districts, each of which elected one commissioner to the Board of Commissioners. Each voting district was supposed to contain a roughly equal number of residents, pursuant to the one person one vote requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment. The third district contains the Jefferson Correctional Institution, a correctional facility housing, according to 2010 census, 1157 inmates. The population of the correctional facility was counted when drawing the lines of District Three, even though the vast majority of the inmates were not residents of Jefferson County, and thus were not registered to vote in Jefferson County. Because there are five districts in Jefferson County, an ideal population size for each district would be 1/5 of the population. Including the prison population, District 3 missed this goal by only 4%. Not including the prison population, District 3 missed this goal by 29.69%. The plaintiffs were concerned that the smaller voting population in District 3 gave the residents there inflated electing power.
On March 9th, 2015, the plaintiffs filed their complaint, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. Discovery lasted about two months, from the end of March, 2015 to September of 2015. At the end of July, the Defendants moved for summary judgment, and at the beginning of August, 2015, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment as well.
On March 19, 2016, Judge Mark E. Walker granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and denied the defendants'. As a result, the 2013 Jefferson County redistricting plan was declared unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, and was forbidden from being used. 2016 was an election year for Jefferson County, so the court entreated the Defendant to come up with a usable, constitutional redistricting plan, or the court would be forced to order their own redistricting plan.
Both the plaintiffs and the defendants then submitted redistricting plans for Jefferson County. The plaintiffs’ plan was only to be accepted if the defendants’ plan was unacceptable. A major point of contention in the acceptability of the plans was their adherence to a 1985 consent decree, which outlined the way elections were to be run in Jefferson County. The sticking point was that the consent decree stipulated that District 3 was to be a “balance district” – that is, having roughly equal numbers of African-American and white voters.
On April 18, 2016, Judge Mark E. Walker approved of the defendants’ plan. Though the new District 3 did not have an equal number of African-American and white voters, the court deemed it acceptable and certainly no longer unconstitutional.
On July 13, 2016, the two parties filed a notice of settlement. They resolved the plaintiffs’ claim for attorney’s fees; the amount settled upon was not mentioned in the notice. The parties also agreed to close the case, but asked the court to retain jurisdiction to enforce the payment of the settlement. The settlement was to be made in two payments. According to the final action in this case on July 14, 2016, this case is closed pending the second of these two settlement payments.Megan Brown - 09/22/2016