One of the first controversies of Ron DeSantis’ pending tenure as governor is a list of 11 names of suggested replacements for the three members of the Florida Supreme Court’s liberal wing who are retiring. The controversy isn’t about the judicial temperament or legal views of the 11 names on the list from the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. The problem is that no one on the list is African American.
When Peggy Quince joins Barbara Lewis and R. Fred Lewis in stepping down from the Supreme Court because they have reached the mandatory retirement age, the court will no longer have a black member if three of the candidates from the nominating commission are selected to replace them. We prefer to focus on things like character and qualifications when selecting people for public offices. Still, we understand the concern over the symbolism of not having an African American justice for the first time in 36 years.
In response, some Democrats in the Legislature want the judicial nominating commission to have three members chosen by whoever is governor, three chosen by the Florida Bar, with those six naming the three other members. Under a change backed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the nominating commission now has five members selected by the governor and four are suggested to the governor by the Florida Bar. Switching back to the pre-Bush lineup would reduce a governor’s power over the list of nominees to the Supreme Court vacancies, the Democrats proposing the change say.
These lawmakers might want to think twice about limiting the governor’s sway over court appointments, if, as many are predicting, changing demographics make it all but inevitable that a Democrat will reside in the governor’s mansion sooner, rather than later.