A Democratic Florida lawmaker who objected to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ choice for a Florida Supreme Court vacancy has succeed in blocking the appointment of Jamaican immigrant Judge Renatha Francis now that the state supreme court has ruled in the lawmaker’s favor.
But the lawsuit from state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who wanted a new list of potential justices drawn up so that it would include more black judges, has also ensured that the court will not include a black judge.
The court said Friday that Francis was ineligible because judges need to have been members of the Florida Bar for 10 years before they can serve on the Florida Supreme Court.
“The constitution’s ten-year Bar membership requirement and sixty-day appointment deadline are bright-line textual mandates that impose rules rather than standards and prioritize certainty over discretion,” the court ruled.
“We hold that the constitution requires the Governor immediately to appoint and commission a constitutionally eligible nominee from among the seven remaining candidates already certified by the judicial nominating commission.”
DeSantis appointed Francis on May 26. He said she would meet the 10-year rule by not assuming her position until Sept. 24, which would mark 10 years since was admitted to the bar on Sept. 24, 2010, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The court rejected that logic.
“Not having been a member of the Florida Bar for ten years, Judge Renatha Francis was constitutionally ineligible for the office of justice of the supreme court on the expiration of the constitution’s sixty-day deadline,” the ruling said.
“And Judge Francis remains constitutionally ineligible now.”
Procedurally, Florida governors can only fill state supreme court vacancies from a list provided by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.
DeSantis must now go back to the list of those he bypassed when he selected Francis, and no one on that list is black.
Judge Renatha Francis would have been the first non-Cuban, Caribbean-American to sit on the high court, but it was not to be. https://t.co/q8JuyfSbor
— WPEC CBS12 News (@CBS12) September 11, 2020
For her part, Francis — a member of the conservative Federalist Society — said in a letter to DeSantis that she would withdraw her name from consideration
“In light of the circumstances, I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration for the position,” she wrote. “Thank you for your support, and for standing by me throughout this process, for which I am incredibly humbled.”
Thompson said the decision was “bittersweet.”
She noted that the JNC received applications from six black judges.
“It’s not the outcome I would’ve liked, but I put competence and qualifications over just a body who isn’t qualified, regardless of the color,” she told the Sentinel.
“The court made clear that all of us are governed by the rule of law, including Ron DeSantis.”
Multiple black leaders had supported Francis, according to The Palm Beach Post.
“She would represent not only her family, not only her former island of Jamaica, but every women, every black person, every immigrant and every Floridian,” Democratic Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said at a news conference held this week by DeSantis, who said Thompson’s suit was motivated by her political agenda.
Thompson insisted her motives were pure.
“My motivation was to protect the independence, the autonomy and the confidence that people have in our judiciary,” she told The Associated Press.
“I put my hand on the Bible and raised my hand to God and said I would protect and defend the constitution. I feel I that I had a responsibility to do that.”
In its ruling, the court blamed the nominating committee for the problem.
“The JNC itself made the decision to nominate a constitutionally ineligible candidate, and it is responsible for the consequences of that decision,” it wrote.
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