State Watch

Florida Supreme Court says governor overstepped authority in naming new justice

Florida’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) overstepped his authority when he appointed a judge to the high court despite her not satisfying the legal requirements, though the judge is still slated to assume a role on the court next month.

In a 5-0 decision, the state Supreme Court ruled that Renatha Francis, a former circuit judge in Palm Beach County, was not eligible to be appointed to her post in May because she fell short of the 10-year mandate for someone to be admitted to the Florida Bar before they are eligible for a position on the high court.

Francis was admitted to the Florida Bar on Sept. 24, 2010, making her tenure with the bar several months short of the admittance requirement for the Florida Supreme Court under state law.

“The Governor did exceed his authority in making this appointment. In a nutshell, when a governor fills by appointment a vacant judicial office, the appointee must be constitutionally eligible for that office at the time of the appointment,” the court ruled.

Francis is not on the court and thus was not part of Thursday’s ruling. She intends to formally join the bench on Sept. 24 when she will officially meet the 10-year mandate. Justice John Couriel, who was appointed in late May along with Francis, also recused himself from the decision.

The state Supreme Court said Thursday that despite its finding there is no action to be taken and Francis’s appointment will still stand because the remedy sought by a state lawmaker cannot be done.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D), who first brought the suit against DeSantis, had asked the Florida Supreme Court to compile a new list of possible nominees to fill a vacancy on the bench. 

The court noted that Thompson did not file her suit in January, when Francis’s name was first floated in a list of potential nominees, and that since she did not challenge her presence on the list, the initial list of nominees must be allowed to stand.

“[T]he remedy Thompson seeks is legally unavailable under these circumstances. There is no legal justification for us to require a replacement appointment from a new list of candidates, rather than from the one that is already before the Governor. And the correct remedy (an appointment from the existing list of eligible nominees) would be contrary to Thompson’s stated objectives in filing this case. Therefore, we hold Thompson to the remedy she requested and deny her petition,” the justices ruled. 

DeSantis first selected Francis to fill the spot left vacant by Justice Robert Luck. Her selection was a win for Black lawmakers who had pressed DeSantis to add an African American to the bench. Thompson, who is also Black, split from the state legislature’s Black Caucus to fight Francis’s nomination.

Thompson railed against the decision Thursday, saying the ruling could allow DeSantis to ignore the state law regarding eligibility in future appointments.

“What they’re saying is, ‘He exceeded his authority but so what?’” Thompson said in an interview with The Orlando Sentinel. “It gives free reign for this governor and any other governor to exceed their authority and there’s no repercussion for doing so.”

Tags Ron DeSantis

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