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Florida Supreme Court blocks Gov. DeSantis’ pick for first black justice; he blames politics

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The Florida Supreme Court has blocked GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pick to serve on the state’s high court because she was not yet constitutionally eligible to be appointed.

In a Friday ruling, the court nullified DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Renatha Francis because she has not yet fulfilled the requirement of having been a member in good standing of the Florida Bar for 10 years before being eligible for a Supreme Court appointment, The Hill reported.

That said, Francis’ 10-year anniversary is fast approaching. She was admitted to the state bar on Sept. 24, 2010, meaning at the time she was appointed she was a number of months shy of her anniversary date.

The 10-year requirement is a state law.

Her appointment was championed by black lawmakers who had been pressing the GOP governor to appoint an African American jurist to the state Supreme court. However, critics pointed out the time of the appointment and said she should not be seated on the 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.”

Following the ruling, DeSantis will have until Monday to make another appointment to fill the vacancy after it became open with Justice Robert Luck’s retirement.

Unlike on the federal level, with presidents free to pick whom they want to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida governors are required by law to fill Supreme Court vacancies from a list of candidates supplied by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

That means DeSantis’ choices are limited to names provided to him. In this case, he will now have to pick from a list that was originally provided to him earlier this year before his selection of Francis became embroiled in controversy.

It’s not clear how Francis’ name was added to the commission’s list if she was not constitutionally eligible for the appointment.

The move to block Francis’ appointment was initiated by State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat. The Hill reports that initially she requested a new list be made and given to DeSantis, but she later altered her petition to match the high court’s ruling two weeks prior determining that DeSantis overstepped his authority in making the Francis appointment.

“My motivation was to protect the independence, the autonomy, and the confidence that people have in our judiciary,” Thompson 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 that I had a responsibility to do that.”

The AP reported that Francis was four months short of her constitutionally mandated 10-year bar anniversary. At the time, DeSantis acknowledged the shortfall but said she would not be sworn until her anniversary date, thus fulfilling the letter of the law.

“We’re all governed by the rule of law, including the governor of the state of Florida. He is not above the law, and the Supreme Court made that point very clear,” Thompson told the AP.

That said, Thompson opposed Francis “because she shares his conservative ideology, not because he is trying to achieve racial diversity,” the AP reported, leading DeSantis to charge that Thompson’s objections were politically motivated.

Francis, a Jamaican immigrant who worked her way through law school, is currently a judge in Palm Beach County. She is also a former member of the Federalist Society.

Jon Dougherty

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