by David Simon
With regard to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis’ ruling that Florida’s Congressional map must be withdrawn, Congresswoman Brown made the following statement:
“The decision by Judge Lewis is seriously flawed. And it completely fails to take into consideration the rights of minority voters or to recognize federal law, specifically, the 1964 Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voting rights and clearly supersedes the state’s Fair Districts standards.
“After the Florida Legislature conducted 26 hearings throughout the state of Florida in a bi-partisan fashion to include voter participation and input with regard to their representation, the Florida Legislature drew the current plan, which passed in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in both the Florida State House and Florida State Senate.
“Prior to the 1992 election, Florida had not had a federal African American representative since Josiah Thomas Walls, in 1871, a time span of 129 years. Nationally, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, between the years of 1832-1965 (133 years), there were only 28 elected African Americans. From 1965-Present (49 years), there were/are 103 elected African Americans (four times as many, in nearly one-third the time span).
“Overturning the current District 5 map ignores the essential redistricting principle of maintaining communities of interest or minority access districts. Certainly, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district “compactness,” while ignoring the maintenance of minority access districts, fragments minority communities across the state. The current District 5 map is essentially the same as the previous District (3), which was drawn by the courts and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, in adherence to the principles of the Voting Rights Act.
“For most of my adult life, there were no minority members of Congress elected from Florida, and few African-Americans elected to the Florida House and Senate. That changed in 1992 when I was elected to Congress together with Rep. Carrie Meek from Miami and Rep. Alcee Hastings from Ft. Lauderdale.
“Yet to obtain this seat I had to file a lawsuit. I fought for four African American seats in the courts, and in the end, we reached a compromise and got three, again – based on the tenets of
The Voting Rights Act. As a result of this lawsuit, in 1993, after nearly 130 years, the state of Florida had three African American federal representatives. And for the first time in many years, minority community members in the state of Florida were represented by people who truly understood them; who grew up in the same neighborhoods and attended the same churches and schools as they did. I firmly believe that I, as an African American legislator, can understand and empathize with the issues my constituents confront on a profound level since I share the same racial and cultural background as they do, and have had to battle many of the same challenges and prejudices as they have.
“Today, our diverse state’s population is 16% African American and 21% Hispanic, comprising over one-third of Florida’s residents. To uphold the hard-fought gains we have made, it is absolutely essential to incorporate the spirit of The Voting Rights Act into the State of Florida’s political boundaries. One critical part of the Voting Rights Act strictly prohibits the fracturing of communities of minority voters into a variety of districts. This element of the Act is essential in the maintenance of minority representation not just in the state of Florida, but across the entire nation.”