Former Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry provided testimony during an ongoing federal trial regarding redistricting in the state. Perry criticized past rulings by the Florida Supreme Court on redistricting and questioned the Legislature’s handling of the process. He also claimed that the congressional map touted by Governor Ron DeSantis, which helped Republicans win in the last election, was not drawn for partisan reasons or to benefit incumbents. However, Perry’s testimony appeared contradictory, as he denied knowing that the map increased the percentage of white voters in certain districts.
The federal trial is separate from a state court challenge but focuses primarily on the dismantled seat of Rep. Al Lawson. In the state case, a circuit judge determined that the redrawn district violated the state constitution and ordered lawmakers to create a new map. The ruling has been appealed and will be taken up by a state appeals court later this year. In the federal trial, groups and individuals suing the state plan to bring in experts to discuss Florida’s history and determine if discriminatory actions were taken, although direct evidence regarding the behind-the-scenes process is limited.
The legal battle centers around Governor DeSantis’ involvement in the redistricting process. He inserted his own maps and vetoed the initial proposal put forth by the Republican-led Legislature. DeSantis argued that Lawson’s previous district, which stretched from Jacksonville to just west of Tallahassee, violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, when questioned about court rulings supporting DeSantis’ argument, Perry admitted he did not know of any. Perry also asserted that the Florida Supreme Court was wrong in establishing Lawson’s district in 2015, even though he had previously stated he hadn’t read the court’s decision.
Critics, such as Common Cause’s Kathay Feng, argue that Perry’s testimony highlights the DeSantis administration’s struggle to justify their actions, with twists, turns, and denial of history. The trial aims to determine if the redistricting process in Florida was discriminatory.