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Justice Perry warns of 'divide and conquer' approach to racial gerrymandering

In a strongly worded dissent to a portion of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling today upholding the Senate's redrawn redistricting map, Justice E.C. Perry warns that the approach used by legislators to split apart an historically black community in Daytona Beach could cause permanent harm to minorities in Florida.

Perry, who was appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, concurred with the bulk of the majority opinion but criticized the Senate for creating Districit 8 by dividing the black community "which is also a largely Democratic-voting communty" and "diluting the voting power and even the influence of that historically black community."

Whether the dissent was enough ammunition for the Democratic Party, the NAACP and the coalition of voters groups who opposed the to pursue a challenge in court wasn't immediately apparent on Friday.

In a statement, Democratic Party of Florida spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said: “While today’s ruling raises serious concerns, we will continue our efforts to hold this Republican-led legislature accountable to the will of the people – something they have consistently ignored throughout this process.”

Perry said the split not only violated the constitutional protections to protect minority voting rights but also violated the rule that the district be drawn compactly and with adherence to city and county boundary lines. Those were the same arguments made by the coalition of voter groups and the NAACP who opposed the maps.

"I agree with the Coalition‘s assertions that the partisan skew is not the result of a 'natural packing effect' of urban Democrats, but of systematic choices by the Legislature to favor the Republican Party,'' Perry wrote.

"Additionally, I agree with the NAACP that the redrawn district is detrimental to black voters in Daytona Beach and that that community ―accustomed to being represented by the candidate of its choice, would be stranded in a district in which it most certainly will not be able to elect its candidate of choice or one responsive to its interests and needs."

He described the divisions: "...the northern boundary of Redrawn District 8 does not follow consistent geographical boundaries—traveling down minor roadways for just over three miles, International Speedway Boulevard (State Road 92) for 9.2 miles, another set of minor roadways for 1.6 miles, no political or geographical boundary for nearly 8 miles, another minor roadway for 3.3 miles, and then no political geographical boundary for nearly three more miles until it reaches the Volusia-Flagler County line—splitting the City of Daytona Beach."

His conclusion: "I would find that Redrawn District 8 has clearly been drawn with the intent to favor a political party to the detriment of a racial minority community,'' Perry wrote in his seven-page dissent. He said that the court's decision to allow this to continue "sends a signal" that it's permissible "to divide and conquer a racial or language minority group before they are able to reach a majority voting bloc."

Justice Peggy Quince, who is also black, concurred with Perry's opinion, although it was clear he was unable to persuade his fellow justices to join him and throw out the map.