Pointing to a time crunch, a Leon County circuit judge Wednesday gave the Florida Legislature little more than two months to draw new congressional districts and to defend them in court.
Judge George S. Reynolds III issued an order that said a special legislative session to redraw districts and a subsequent trial must be finished by Sept. 25. The order came after the Florida Supreme Court last week tossed out eight congressional districts because it found that lawmakers violated a 2010 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing gerrymandering.
Reynolds' order said Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, who has presided over the long-running case, will be assigned to continue hearing it. A conference will be held July 27 to resolve issues such as scheduling.
Reynolds also requested that the parties in the case try to reach agreement on the time needed for the Legislature to redraw the districts and for the subsequent court review.
"The court will do its best to accommodate everyone's schedule, but clearly there is not much time to do all that is required and the court reserves the right to enter a scheduling order that it believes is necessary to provide for a fair and expeditious resolution of this matter,'' Reynolds wrote.
The order did not explain how Reynolds arrived at the Sept. 25 date, but that is also the same day he is scheduled to start a trial in a similar challenge to state Senate districts.
The flurry of activity stems from the Supreme Court's 5-2 ruling last week in favor of voting-rights groups, who have long contended that lawmakers violated the state Constitution during the 2012 redistricting process. Since the ruling, legislative leaders have offered little comment about how they would respond.
While lawmakers will have to redraw eight congressional districts, the changes also will have spillover effects into neighboring districts. The eight districts are currently represented by Democrat Corrine Brown, Republican David Jolly, Democrat Kathy Castor, Democrat Ted Deutch, Democrat Lois Frankel, Republican Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican Carlos Curbelo and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.