Monday, October 12, 2015

Congresswoman's response to judge's redistricting ruling

(Washington, DC)  On Oct. 9, 2015, Congresswoman Brown made the following statement:
“I oppose today’s ruling by Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis.  The newly drawn, partisan map is a blatant attempt by the plaintiffs and Florida State Supreme Court to disenfranchise minority voters in Congressional District 5.  As a response, in accordance with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, I have filed a federal lawsuit to repeal the proposed congressional map. 

Indeed, the proposed congressional maps will bring about minority vote dilution and hamper the ability of Congressional District 5’s minority residents to elect a candidate of their choice, since the base map entirely dilutes and disperses minority communities.  As I have said before, minority communities do not live in compact, cookie-cutter like neighborhoods, and excessive adherence to district “compactness” fragments them across the state, not allowing them to elect a representative of their choice, and destroying communities of interest. 

The essential reason why African Americans live in the areas of Congressional District 5 in which they do in the first place is a direct result of historical redlining, clearly exemplified by living patterns both here in the state of Florida and easily visible in other states as well.  In fact, after Emancipation and the Civil War, the Black population of northeastern Florida moved along the St. Johns River, which extends from Jacksonville to just north of Orlando.  Because the land was prone to flooding, it was only natural that the poorest Floridians, including freed slaves, would settle there.  Segregated housing patterns, demanded by restrictive covenants and enforced by Florida courts, kept the African-American population together well into the mid-20th Century, which is the central reason why these communities are segregated into those residential patterns across the state.
I have said from the outset that the newly proposed boundaries of Congressional District 5 make it a non-performing district not only for an African American, but for a member of the Democratic Party.  Clearly, those who drew up the map knew that the new congressional district has 18 prisons in it.  And they also know that in the state of Florida, felons cannot vote; so not only was the black voting age population (VAP) decreased from 50-45%, many of these people are not allowed to vote, so the VAP number is, in reality, vastly below 45%. 
Indeed, the diminishment of the black voting age population in this newly drawn district, which consists of 18 prisons that holds 17,000 prisoners, would give the newly drawn congressional district 5 one of the highest prison populations in the state.  Moreover, the percentage of black inmates is proportionally higher than in the rest of the state’s population, wherein African Americans make up only 16% of the total population, yet make up 46% of the prison population.  And since the Census counts prisoners as residents of the towns where they are held, not where they are from, the official number of African Americans in the newly drawn CD 5 is completely distorted, again, making the district extraordinarily difficult for a minority candidate to win.   
Moreover, in the Circuit Court order recommending the adoption of the map, Judge Lewis clearly points out that he is troubled by the configuration of Congressional District 5, and goes on to say that it is ‘one of the least compact of the districts.’

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 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. 

District 5 in Florida and minority access districts across the nation cannot, and will not be eliminated, particularly after the hard fought civil rights gains we have made during the last 50 years.  As a people, African Americans have fought too hard to get to where we are now, and we certainly are not taking any steps backwards.”