TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry has retired from the state’s highest court at the age of 72.
Since 2009, the former Sanford judge has served on the Supreme Court, where he was appointed as the 85th justice to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican at the time. However, because of Florida’s mandatory age for Supreme Court justices at 70, he was forced to retire on Dec. 30.
Yet, he stayed beyond the age of 70 because of a provision allowing justices whose “70th birthday occurs in the second half of their six-year term (to) remain on the bench until the full term expires.”
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in New Bern, North Carolina, Perry didn’t want to be a lawyer. According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was in 1968, while he was in the U.S. Army, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated that Perry — at the age of 24 — decided he wanted to make a difference by becoming an attorney.
At the time of Perry’s appointment, there was only one other African-American on the Florida Supreme Court — Justice Peggy A. Quince. However, as the Orlando Sentinel reported, despite Crist receiving more than 20,000 emails, faxes and letters from conservatives in support of finalist C. Alan Lawson, a white male, Crist chose Perry.
Prior to his time on the Supreme Court, Perry handled civil and family cases; however, 60 percent of the work on the Supreme Court is related to the death penalty.
Just eight days before his retirement, Perry authored a 10-page dissent in a death-penalty ruling in the case of Mark James Asay, a white man who killed a black victim in Florida. In a report from the Orlando Weekly, Perry condemned the way the death penalty is applied in the state of Florida. Yet, while the report stated that Perry is aware of the irony in discussing discrimination in the context of the Asay case, he added that it is his sworn duty to uphold the constitution of the state of Florida and the United States and not to ensure retribution against those whose crimes he finds personally offensive.
He will also be remembered for an opinion in 2011 that tossed out a K-9 sniff test on the porch of a Miami home, which, according to the Orlando Sentinel, was a site for growing marijuana. Perry wrote that since the police had no warrant, there was no right to have a dog sniffing at the door.
Despite his role on the Florida Supreme Court, Perry also has been actively involved in many community activities. According to the Florida Supreme Court, Perry is committed to improving children’s lives. He is founder and president of the Jackie Robinson Sports Association, which serves 650 at-risk boys and girls by providing baseball training, mentoring and free tutoring.
Before his appointment on the Supreme Court, Perry served as a circuit judge on Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit, where he was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2000 to become the first African-American to do so. He then served as the first black chief judge of the circuit in 2003.