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A matter of black and white: Brown defends her current district

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, provided a history lesson about law, politics and race Thursday as she defended her existing meandering congressional district from Jacksonville to Orlando that is in legal and political peril.

Brown's north-south 5th district is at the heart of an intense struggle as the Legislature decides in a special session whether to accept the advice of the Florida Supreme Court and redraws Brown's district from east to west, reducing its black voting age population from 48 percent to 45 percent. Brown insists that change would deprive black voters of their right, under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent court decisions, to elect the candidate of their choice.

Her speech to the Senate Reapportionment Committee was vintage Brown: Rambling, colorful and emotional, and mostly about race, as she reminded lawmakers that her current district, now declared unconstitutional by the state's highest court, was originally drawn by a federal court in an equally contentious redistricting struggle in 1992.

"We are celebrating 50 years of the Voting Rights Act," Brown said. "Lyndon Baines Johnson signed it into law, that you could put communities of interest together. And in 1992, I was involved in the lawsuit that the federal courts drew the district, and it has been affirmed all the way to the United States Supreme Court."

She said it would be a travesty if she no longer represented the black residents of Eatonville in Orlando and Sanford in Volusia County, where, she reminded senators, "Trayvon Martin was killed."

"Now, they say, 'Well, Corrine, you could win without Sanford. It is not about winning," Brown said. "It is about having communities of interest and having people be served."

She noted that her proposed new east-west district -- drawn by legislative staffers based on the Supreme Court's order -- would include 18 prisons. But while all those inmates are counted in the district's population, they cannot vote, and a disproportionately large number are African-American.

In an ironic bit of political stagecraft, the liberal Brown and the conservative senators seated a few feet away share a mutual dislike for the Supreme Court's decision. "To totally rewrite 20-some years of federal jurisprudence -- I don't know how they get there," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.