The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) is scheduled to begin interviewing 32 applicants for two vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court this weekend and present Gov. Ron DeSantis with finalists by month’s end.
The nine-member JNC will meet with the candidates at the Hyatt Regency Hotel at Orlando International Airport – 18 candidates on Saturday, Jan. 11, and the remaining 14 the following day.
In the two weeks after the Orlando interviews, the JNC plans to meet to vet applicants and set up additional meetings with candidates, ideally forwarding finalists to DeSantis by Jan. 25.
The JNC process formally began on Nov. 25 after Florida Supreme Court Justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa were appointed by President Donald Trump, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.
DeSantis appointed Lagoa, Luck and Carlos Muniz to the state Supreme Court upon assuming office last 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.
The three new jurists transformed the court’s 4-3 liberal majority into a 6-1 conservative bloc, a reboot Florida Republicans had long relished and now hope to sustain with the two new selections.
DeSantis will have 60 days to make his two selections once he receives finalists from the JNC. The Governor’s Office has requested the JNC provide the legal maximum of 12 finalists, six for each vacant seat.
At least one of the newly appointed justices will need to come from the state’s 3rd Appellate District (DCA), which is made up of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Under the Florida Constitution, all five of the state’s appellate districts must be represented on the seven-member Supreme Court. Both Lagoa and Luck were from the 3rd DCA.
Of the 32 applicants, 14 are women, 11 are district court judges, 16 are circuit court judges and five are attorneys, not jurists.
Democrats and civil rights advocates are pressuring DeSantis to appoint an African American justice and a woman to fill the vacancies.
With Judge Quince’s age-forced retirement last year, a state with 3.5 million black residents does not have an African American judge on its highest court for the first time since 1983.
When reviewing candidates in late 2018 for the three 2019 openings, the JNC, all appointed by then-Gov. Rick Scott, did not recommend any of the six African Americans among the 59 candidates to be among the 11 presented to DeSantis as finalists.
With her selection to the state’s Supreme Court in the wake of Quince’s and Pariente’s retirements, Lagoa became the only woman jurist on the bench. With her departure, there are no women on the high court.
Among the 32 candidates to succeed Lagoa this year is the only other woman forwarded as a finalist last year to DeSantis, Judge Jamie Grosshans of the 5th DCA.
At least seven applicants are from the 3rd DCA, including two African American justices – former assistant U.S. Attorney in Miami and international dispute litigator John Couriel, and Eliott Pedrosa, the U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development bank, which finances projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
3rd District Circuit Court Justices Norma Lindsey and Bronwyn Miller are also among the candidates.
Lindsey is one of three founders of the University of Miami student chapter of the Federalist Society and a member of the Cuban American Bar Association, Association of Women Lawyers, and Gwen S. Cherry Black Women’s Lawyers Association, while Miller has served as a prosecutor, including as a felony division chief, before becoming a trial judge at the age of 32 and being appointed to the 3rd DCA in 2018.
DeSantis has said he will again focus on selecting justices or litigators who have demonstrated “judicial restraint” in their careers with additional vetting conducted by the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a conservative-libertarian organization.