Florida Supremes order DeSantis to pick new justice; says he hasn’t complied with Constitution’s ‘commands’

Florida Supremes

By Noreen Marcus,

The Florida Supreme Court has ordered Gov. Ron DeSantis to pick another justice by Monday.

Friday’s ruling deals the governor a political blow and would seem to end his multifaceted effort to put Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis on the court. Francis didn’t have the required 10 years as a licensed Florida lawyer when she applied to the Judicial Nominating Commission, or when DeSantis introduced her as his choice on May 26.

“The Governor has not complied with the constitution’s clear commands,” the court stated in an unsigned, unanimous opinion.

Francis’s investiture was scheduled for Sept. 24, her 10-year anniversary as an attorney. She would have been the only woman on the court and the first Jamaican-American woman of color in its history. An active member of the Federalist Society, she is in line with the court’s majority conservative bloc.

DeSantis has taken a combative stance toward the justices in the Francis case. If he still refuses to follow the court’s order to choose someone else, he could provoke a constitutional crisis.

Janet Ferris, a retired state trial court judge, said the court has spoken and won’t yield to the governor’s intransigence.

“They’re giving him a chance to comply with the order and if he refuses, they’ll figure out a remedy that gets to the same place,” she said. They could, for instance, form a committee to pick an eligible candidate.

A court challenge

Despite political pressure to support diversity on the court, Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) filed a court challenge in July against DeSantis and the JNC. The petition didn’t question Francis’s qualifications; it was based on her ineligibility under the Florida Constitution.

florida supremes
Renatha Francis accepting her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis on May 26. Photo: The Florida Channel

DeSantis treated the court battle over his choice like sports, heckling the referees and trying to run out the clock for a win.

He played racial politics in an obvious attempt to distract attention from unfavorable rulings and pressure his opponent to surrender. But Thompson, who is African-American, never backed down.

Five justices decided Aug. 27 that DeSantis would misuse his power by adding Francis to their ranks, citing the 10-year rule.

On Tuesday, the court told DeSantis—in a roundabout way—to “immediately” pick a different candidate from a list of seven eligible applicants. The list included Francis, new Justice John Couriel and the seven lawyers, three of them men and four women.All the remaining candidates are white.

DeSantis attacks

Instead of complying, DeSantis attacked on two fronts. On Wednesday he staged a protest in Miramar, a heavily Jamaican-American city in Broward County, with Francis and local black leaders, including Broward Mayor Dale Holness.

Directing her remarks to Thompson, State Rep. Dotie Joseph (D-North Miami) said, “Please drop this lawsuit. And instead, direct our energies to bringing forth real reform on things that we can agree on, like criminal justice reform in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.”

DeSantis called Thompson’s court action “an insult to the Jamaican-American community.”

“The responsibility for diversifying the court rests with Ron DeSantis and his Judicial Nominating Commission,” Thompson responded in an interview with The Miami Herald. “I don’t think he had any intention to put an eligible African-American on the Florida Supreme Court.”

Meanwhile in Tallahassee, the governor’s lawyers filed a brief late Wednesday urging the justices to reverse their rulings against him.

The brief asked the court to approve time-consuming detours that could have extended the case until Sept. 24, when Francis could have legally taken a seat on the court. Her investiture was scheduled for that date, less than two weeks away.

“They’re trying to delay proceedings so that the appointee can become eligible,” said Adam Richardson, a West Palm Beach appellate lawyer. “It looks likely that the court will block the appointment and force the governor to choose someone else and they’re still arguing the merits.”

DeSantis spokesman Fred Piccolo did not respond to Florida Bulldog emails seeking comment on the governor’s strategy in the Francis case or comment on the outcome.

The court has already erased Francis from its website, where she had a page as a justice-designate. Now a click produces this: “Page not found.”

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