After appointing three justices to the Florida Supreme Court upon assuming office in January, Gov. Ron DeSantis will name two more to the state’s highest court in early 2020.
That’s because two of those January appointments were nominated by President Donald Trump in September to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.
Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert J. Luck already have appeared before the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee for nomination hearings and are likely to be confirmed in December.
The governor appointed Lagoa, Luck and Carlos Muniz to the state Supreme Court upon assuming office in January when the three seats were vacated by Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince because they had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges.
“These things just happen,” DeSantis told reporters during the Associated Press’s annual Legislative Planning Session in Tallahassee on Oct. 28. Former governors “Jeb Bush and Rick Scott were in for 16 years combined, and they got three appointments combined. I will have been in for a year, a year and two months, and I would have already had five.”
Once Lagoa and Luck are confirmed, the state’s Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Committee will provide names of potential Supreme Court replacements to DeSantis, who said he will make the appointments during the 2020 legislative session, which starts Jan. 14 and ends 60 days later in March.
Lagoa, 52, a Hialeah native and the daughter of Cuban émigrés, was the chief justice of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal, where she had served since her 2006 appointment by Bush, before DeSantis named her to be the state’s first Cuban-American female Supreme Court justice.
Luck, 40, of North Miami Beach, was appointed to the state’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court in 2013 by Scott. In 2017, Scott appointed him to the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal where he was serving when DeSantis tapped him for the state’s Supreme Court.
Lagoa and Luck appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 16 for their nomination hearings, which were broadcast on C-SPAN.
They fielded questions about “judicial activism” and how they’d use precedent in issuing rulings, but otherwise there’s little doubt both will be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked why judges should uphold the original meanings in a Constitution written by “people who have been dead for 200 years.”
Luck said if judges don’t do so, each one would be making decisions based on their own interpretations of the law and the Constitution.
“Every single person has a different way of viewing something,” he said, but judges cannot allow personal feelings and beliefs to be primary factors in issuing rulings.
“The definition of a judicial activist is a judge who rules based on their personal preference or policy preference regardless of what the law calls for,” Lagoa told senators, noting she has issued opinions that she personally disagreed with, but adhered to statutes as written and adopted by lawmakers.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, one of the few Democrats to question the two during the nomination hearing, praised Trump’s nomination of Lagoa.
“The fact of the matter is only 6.6 percent of federal judges are of Latino or Hispanic heritage or descent,” Blumenthal said. “In a country where more than 18 percent of our population is Latino or Hispanic, we should be doing more to attract nominees with that qualification.”
Lagoa, whose parents escaped from Cuba to come to the U.S., said “judicial activism” undermines the nation’s bedrock as a Constitutional republic.
“Unlike the country my parents fled,” she said, “we are a nation of laws, not of men.”
“To paraphrase ‘Jerry Maguire,’ you had me at ‘this is not Cuba,’” Cruz said.
“You had me at hello,” added Committee Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.