TALLAHASSEE – James E.C. Perry, a justice of the Florida Supreme Court, says he will retire Dec. 30, reported Florida Politics in a Sept. 12 article.

James E.C. Perry
James E.C. Perry | Florida Supreme Court

Perry, who joined the court in March 2009, announced his retirement in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott.

“After over 16 years of proudly serving the citizens of the state of Florida, first as a circuit judge and currently as a Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, I am constitutionally mandated to retire by the end of my current term," Perry told to Scott in his letter.

He’s leaving because of the state’s mandatory retirement for judges at age 70. Perry, who is 72, stayed past that age because of a provision allowing justices more time.

“If the 70th birthday occurs in the second half of their six-year term, (a judge can) remain on the bench until the full term expires,” the provision said.

According to a Sept. 12 Miami Herald article, Perry’s retirement is the first opportunity Scott will have to name a justice to the moderate court that has vexed Republicans during his term on issues ranging from redistricting, abortion and workers' compensation to declaring that the Republican-controlled Florida House violated state law when it adjourned early in protest over a budget dispute over the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“There’s a Judicial Nominating Council, so I have a certain number of options,” Florida Politics reported Scott as saying. “I try to find the candidate who I believe is going to uphold the law and be humble in the process … I expect our court system to uphold the laws of the state.”

Perry, the newest member of the court, is the fourth African-American judge to serve on Florida's high court. He was first appointed to the trial court by former Gov. Jeb Bush when he was named to the state’s 18th judicial circuit, which includes Seminole and Brevard counties, in March 2000. He was the first African-American to serve on that bench.

Bush’s appointment of Perry wasn’t the first time the lawyer broke barriers.

A native of New Bern, North Carolina, Perry graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1972 and passed a multi-state bar exam but was required to pass a separate bar exam in Georgia to practice law there. When he and 49 other black applicants failed the exam, he sued the Georgia Board of Bar Examiners, alleging violation of the Civil Rights Act. They won.

While the case was still in litigation, Georgia administered another bar exam and Perry and 23 other black applicants passed. Within months the number of black attorneys in Georgia more than doubled.

Perry moved to Florida, where he began working with the Seminole Employment and Economic Development Corp. in Sanford. He went into private practice, specializing in civil and business law as a senior partner in Perry & Hicks, P.A.

He told the Miami Herald he was asked to apply for the Florida Supreme Court in 2009 and initially turned it down.

“I have an office overlooking the lake. I have a docket under control and I have Magic season tickets,’’ he said. “They said. It’s not about you and I said, ‘You’re right. It’s not about me.’”

The court’s liberal-leaning majority usually includes Perry, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, and justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

“(Scott’s appointment) will not a shift the court as it relates to outcomes,’’ said Jason Gonzalez, the statewide co-chair for the Federalist Society, a conservative libertarian lawyers group that tracks the judicial appointment process, told the Miami Herald. “But, instead of a 5-2 left of center, activist court, it will be a 4-3.”

Scott said he will await the recommendation of the judicial nominating commission but wouldn’t elaborate on what judicial temperament he will expect in his appointees.

“It’s a responsibility I have and I take very seriously,’’ he said to reporters. “What I do is try to find individuals who will uphold the law.”

Perry, who can trace his family roots to slavery, told the Miami Herald he does not consider his judicial temperament “traditionalist” but he is also confused by the conservative label.

“What do they want to conserve? If you want to keep things the way they are -- 1865 or 1965 -- that’s not a good place for me," he said. “The good ‘ol days weren’t so good for me.”

However, Perry said that while there are a lot of laws he doesn’t like, it is not the role of the court to change them. Instead, the court’s role is to follow the state and federal constitutions, regardless of the merits.

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