Lawmaker aims to block Florida Supreme Court appointee, calling Gov. DeSantis pick 'unqualified,' 'insulting'
A Democratic state lawmaker Monday harshly criticized GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and a state judicial nominating panel for using what she called a conservative “litmus test” to name a Black judge to the
At a news conference in Tallahassee, state Rep. Geraldine Thompson of Windermere, alleged that DeSantis appointed Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis because of her membership in the Federalist Society, which refers to itself as a “conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community.”
Thompson, who filed a legal challenge of Francis' appointment at the very court she was tapped to join, said her selection was purely ideological, an insult to Blacks, and a threat to an independent judiciary.
The challenge could be consequential. Francis is 42, and could serve for three decades before reaching the current mandatory retirement age of 75.
DeSantis appointed her in May, along with Miami attorney John Couriel, to replace former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck. They were tapped by President Donald Trump for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In her challenge, Thompson says DeSantis was required to make the appointment in March, according to the state constitution. He waited, saying he was sidelined with other duties as he dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, Francis wasn't eligible at either time to be a Supreme Court justice. An appointee must be a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years to be a Supreme Court justice; Francis, admitted to practice law in 2010, is scheduled to take the oath of office in September, when she satisfies the 10-year requirement.
“The Constitution is clear,” Thompson said. “It is the rule of law."
In court documents, Thompson said her selection ahead of time is unconstitutional. In public comments, she argues it's part of a plan to stack the courts with Federalist Society members.
Both Francis and DeSantis are members, advocating an “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution – acknowledgement of what the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once explained was “the limited range of meaning” of laws.
Thompson said both DeSantis and Francis "knew or should have known" that the 42-year-old Francis was ineligible. DeSantis’ office did not respond to a request for a comment.
Furthermore, she alleged that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which vets and recommends potential judges, ignored the constitutional requirement to do the governor's bidding.
“The long-term effect of this is you are going to have highly-qualified people who are not going to put themselves through the rigors of applying … when you have a JNC that does whatever it wants to do, doesn’t follow the Constitution, doesn’t follow its own rules,” Thompson said Monday.
There were a half-dozen other Black candidates in the applicant pool, according to court documents, and five of them were current judges with decades of courtroom experience, compared to the three on Francis’ resume.
“It is not mutually exclusive to say I want an African-American and have someone who is qualified,” Thompson said. “The remedy I am seeking is (for) the governor to make an appointment among these people who are eligible and highly qualified.”
Orlando attorney Lisabeth J. Fryer and William R. Ponall of Maitland are representing Thompson in the Supreme Court challenge. She is seeking a writ of quo warranto, which demands government officials prove their authority to perform a certain action; in this case, to appoint Francis. The governor has until next Monday to respond to Thompson in court.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee
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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Lawmaker aims to block Florida Supreme Court appointee, calling Gov. DeSantis pick 'unqualified,' 'insulting'