Florida Supreme Court Compels Legislator Depositions in Redistricting Case


On December 13, 2013, the Florida Supreme Court decided that Florida legislators and legislative staff members can be forced to give deposition testimony and produce documents relating to legislation establishing new congressional districts.  See Fla. House of Representatives v. League of Women Voters of Fla.; Romo v. Fla. House of Representatives, Nos. SC13-949 & SC13-951.  For a summary of the proceedings leading up to the Florida Supreme Court’s decision, please click here.  To read the Court’s opinion, click here.

In a 5-2 opinion the Florida high court held that the legislative privilege is founded on the constitutional principle of separate of powers, but declared that the privilege is not absolute when there is a competing interest of effectuating the explicit constitutional mandate that prohibits partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent in redistricting.  The Court concluded that “there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of privilege to prevent the discovery of relevant evidence necessary to vindicate” the prohibition against political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent.  The Court rejected the Legislature’s argument that requiring the testimony of individual legislators and legislative staff members will have a “chilling effect” on the reapportionment process.  Instead, the Court found that “this type of ‘chilling effect’ was the precise purpose of the constitutional amendment outlawing partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent.”

Justice Charles Canady, who authored a strong dissent joined by Chief Justice Ricky Polston, considered the majority’s decision “unprecedented.” He characterized the majority’s approach as “the exercise of unfettered judicial discretion,” and “the nadir of judicial restraint.”  He believed the majority’s view “works a radical change in the relationship between the judicial branch and the legislative branch by thrusting judicial officers into the internal workings of the legislative process.”

No parties filed a post-decision motion and the decision is now final.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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