James E.C. Perry, a justice of the Florida Supreme Court, says he will retire this Dec. 30.

Perry, who joined the court in March 2009, announced his retirement in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott, released Monday morning. (Click here to read the letter, which is at the end of the press release.)

Perry

Perry

The vacancy now gives Scott, a Republican, the opportunity to add another jurist to the court’s conservative minority of Charles Canady and Ricky Polston. This will be his first high court appointment in Scott’s nearly six years in office.

Perry’s departure otherwise leaves Peggy A. Quince as the only African-American justice on the seven-member court.

Perry, who was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, had been a circuit judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit in Brevard and Seminole counties. His official court biography is here.

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 whose “70th birthday occurs in the second half of their six-year term (to) remain on the bench until the full term expires.”

“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 wrote Scott in his letter.

It was delivered to the governor’s office Friday afternoon.

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

Lewis, Pariente and Quince, the core of that majority, face mandatory retirement in 2019, according to the court’s website. Labarga will sit for a retention vote this year.

“Every individual, every business wants to make sure that when they go through the court system it’s going to be a fair system, where it shouldn’t matter which judge you get,” Scott told reporters later Monday. “What I try to do is find people that are going to uphold the law. It’s a responsibility I have, and I take it very seriously.

“There’s a Judicial Nominating Council, so I have a certain number of options,” he added. “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.”

To replace Perry, the state’s Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC) will take applications and submit three to six names “of the most highly qualified applicants to the governor, who must make a final selection from the list,” according to its website.

The nine-member Supreme Court JNC includes Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, and Daniel Nordby, formerly the state House of Representatives’ general counsel.

“Five members are appointed directly by the governor, and the Bar send nominations to the governor to fill the remaining four spots,” the website says. Panuccio and Nordby, now both in private legal practice, were appointed by Scott.

Another member of that panel is Scott confidant Fred Karlinsky, a top lobbyist for the state’s insurance industry.

Correspondent Michael Moline contributed to this post. 

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