U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown has argued that a federal civil rights mandate protects districts that provide minority representation. (Photo courtesy of Corrine Brown.)

By Ralph De La Cruz
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

After months of silently hearing testimony from constituents who spoke without benefit of having seen a single proposed map, the state Senate finally rolled out on Monday its version of what Florida’s political boundaries should look like.

And despite passage of two state Constitutional amendments that required fundamental  change, Senators produced a map strikingly similar to the old map.

For example, here’s the Senate’s proposed map for U.S. Congressional districts.  And here’s the old map.

The district in the northeast part of the state that looks like a Rorschach inkblot is Congressional District 3. On the old map it kind of resembles a dog chasing a bird, but feel free to make your own assessment.

The new Senate version is skinnier. More like a salamander or a very skinny Chihuahua. But it’s still the very definition of “serpentine” (if not “gerrymander”). It still stretches from Jacksonville to almost Orlando.

Like a canary in the mine, District 3 is the “indicator” district that lets us know, at a glance, whether there’s really been any fundamental changes after passage of the Fair Districts Amendments.

District 3 is Rep. Corrine Brown’s district. That would be the Corrine Brown who, along with Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, filed a lawsuit to overturn amendments that were passed by 63 percent of Florida voters.

After Brown and Diaz-Balart’s lawsuit was rejected in court, they appealed — an action that was subsequently supported by a state legislature so overwhelmingly Republican that, in a state with 500,000 more registered Democratic voters, they have super majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Those folks are in no rush to make any significant changes to a map that has put them in their seats. And neither is Brown, regardless of what 63 percent of voters wanted.

Which explains: The map. The curious geography of District 3. And where all this is headed.

The two Fair Districts amendments, which ban the manipulation of districts to benefit any party or individual, were supposed to do away with aberrations such as District 3. But Brown (and Diaz-Balart) has argued that there’s also a federal civil rights mandate protecting districts that provide minority representation. That mandate is one reason given for creating the bizarre-shaped District 3 in the first place. Brown is black; Diaz-Balart is Latino.

So somewhere during this difficult, contentious and delicate process, there has to be some attempt to marry those two needs. That doesn’t mean largely reprinting the current map.

If the state House follows the Senate’s lead, all this seems headed to the courts, where three truly heavyweight litigants — Florida voters, their elected state leaders and the federal government — will slug it out.

And a few little deadlines, such as the 2012 elections — even primaries — will add a little tension.