DeSantis to delay Supreme Court selections

By Dara Kam

News Service of Florida

Gov. Ron DeSantis said last Thursday his focus on the novel coronavirus has kept him from getting homework done to meet a Monday deadline for choosing two new Florida Supreme Court justices.

“I have not had time to really read all the opinions in the way that I think I need to, or the writing samples. So I will most likely delay, under the state of emergency, that deadline, probably push it back to May 1,” DeSantis told reporters, following the conclusion of the 2020 legislative session.

DeSantis is replacing former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, whom he appointed to the Supreme Court not long after he took office in January 2019. But President Donald Trump, a close ally of DeSantis, tapped the pair last year to fill vacancies on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission gave DeSantis a slate of nine nominees on Jan. 23, setting in motion a 60-day window for the governor to make his appointments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will push back his decision on choosing two new Florida Supreme Court justices until May.
Photo special to the Outlook

The list includes six state appellate judges, five women and one Black candidate.

The court’s diversity has become a closely watched issue, as it has not had a woman justice since Lagoa joined the Atlanta-based federal appeals court and has not had a Black member since former Justice Peggy Quince retired more than a year ago.

DeSantis declared a state of emergency this month as Florida tries to combat the deadly and highly contagious coronavirus, known as COVID-19. The decision to postpone his Supreme Court picks appears to be the first time a governor has used a state of emergency to delay the selection of justices.

“I cannot recall it happening before,” longtime Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said in an email.

The governor said the vacancies will be filled “in due time,” but emphasized that he wasn’t making the selections by last Monday.

“I just don’t see it as being practical, given all the things we’re dealing with as a state,” DeSantis said.

The delay will not affect the list of nominees now in DeSantis hands, a slate he generally praised.

“I’m not saying there aren’t some great candidates. I’m not saying you could really even go wrong. But I don’t think my time is very well spent right now — the court is functioning fine — for me to be taking my eye off the ball of the stuff that everyone’s so concerned about to be reading some of these opinions,” said the governor, a Harvard Law School graduate.

DeSantis’s appointment of Lagoa, Luck and Justice Carlos Muñiz last year reshaped the court, firmly establishing a solid conservative majority after a liberal-leaning bloc for years repeatedly thwarted Republican lawmakers and governors on a variety of policy fronts. DeSantis’ two upcoming selections will continue to cement the court’s conservative approach.

Tallahassee attorney Daniel Nordby, the chairman of the commission that provided the slate of nominees to DeSantis, called the appointment of two justices an “extremely important” duty the governor takes “very seriously.”

“But the highest responsibility of a governor during a state of emergency is to take actions to keep people safe. This wouldn’t be the first time that a judicial appointment slipped beyond the deadline, and it is well-established that the slate of nominees isn’t affected by the expiration of the 60 days,” Nordby, who also served as former Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel, told The News Service of Florida in an email. “I have confidence in Gov. DeSantis as he decides how best to fill these two vacancies from this talented list of nominees.”

The female nominees are Renatha Francis, a Palm Beach County circuit judge who is black; Jamie Grosshans, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal; Norma Lindsey, a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal; Lori Rowe, a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal; and Meredith Sasso, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal.

The other nominees are:

— John Couriel, an attorney with the Miami firm Kobre & Kim.

— Jonathan Gerber, a judge on the 4th District Court of Appeal.

— Timothy Osterhaus, a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal.

— Eliot Pedrosa, a Miami-Dade County attorney who is United States executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank.

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