Appalled by the notion that her state’s legislature had gerrymandered voting districts to favor themselves and their party, Ellen Freidin led a citizen’s initiative to amend the Florida Constitution to establish strict rules for the drawing of legislative and Congressional district lines. After four years of gathering signatures and campaigning for passage, what followed was six years of fierce litigation to enforce the amendments and to fight off four separate federal court challenges to the amendments. Gerrymandering isn’t unique to Florida. Across the country, Republicans and Democrats alike have used the practice to establish political advantage and help incumbents get re-elected. Freidin’s cautionary tale is an important example of how a determined group of citizens can thwart badly intentioned public officials and ensure that state laws are fairly drawn and fully enforced.
Ellen Freidin was born and raised in South Florida, went to public schools, and, but for four years away at college, has lived there her whole life. In the sixth grade, she won her school essay contest on “What Democracy Means to Me.” Before entering law school, she worked for four years as a political campaign manager and legislative aide. Since graduating from Law School in 1978, she has always been involved in politics—especially in developing policy to improve our state. She served on the 1998 Florida Constitution Revision Commission and was responsible for the amendment establishing equality of rights for women and men. She led the Florida Bar Gender Equality committee from 1991 to 1995. In 2006, she took up the cause of ending gerrymandering in Florida and led that effort until its successful conclusion in 2016. Freidin has been married for 50 years to Miami lawyer Philip Freidin and their two children, Allison and Jonathan, are both lawyers in Miami.