Count on this if Seminole County Circuit Judge Michael J. Rudisill lands on the Florida Supreme Court: He won’t be tweeting about rulings or anything else.
“I tend to stay away from Twitter,” Rudisill said Monday, during his interview for a high court vacancy. “Twitter’s dangerous. Stay away from it. I don’t use Twitter, and virtually no good can come of it.”
Rudisill and Osceola County Circuit Judge Patricia L. Strowbridge were the final applicants of 11 interviewed by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to replace Justice James E.C. Perry, who departs the bench Dec. 30.
The nominating panel will forward six names by Dec. 13 to Gov. Rick Scott, who will then name Perry’s replacement.
Virtually to a person, the applicants described themselves as strict conservatives who would follow the examples of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia or Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady.
Finally, late in the day, somebody asked Redistill whether he could point to any other judge he’d emulate.
“My fantasy football team is actually named The Fighting Scalias,” Rudisill replied.
Then he turned to Justice Clarence Thomas.
“His work ethic and constitutional originalist judicial philosophy, while slightly different from Antonin Scalia’s, probably would be a close second for me,” he said.
The differences between Thomas and Scalia’s textualism “are rather nuanced, I guess,” he said, but he personally tries to read laws according to the plain meaning of their words as generally understood.
“I definitely would not be tempted to breath new life and meaning” into those words, he said.
Rudisill was asked about Chief Justice John Robert’s opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act. Roberts interpreted the law’s financial sanctions against people who don’t buy insurance as a constitutionally permissible tax — to the consternation of movement conservatives.
Rudisill replied that he agrees with Roberts that courts should find laws constitutional when they can.
“Deference is always going to be appropriate,” but not if “you have to torture” statutory language to abide by the constitution, he said. “The law is clear that you err on the side of finding something constitutional. But if it’s clearly not, you have to do your job.”
Rudisill posited his relative youth as an advantage — he was born in 1976. “It’s a form of diversity that I would bring to the bench.” It makes him more at ease with useful technology than are some of his fellow jurists.
“These are things that I’m comfortable with,” he said.
Strowbridge has specialized in family law including adoptions and child dependency as an attorney and judge.
She disavowed any concern for trying to decipher the legislative intent of laws. That stance, she said, was informed by her experience early in her career helping to lobby the Legislature.
She witnessed considerable horse-trading for votes. “A lot of people” who supported her measure “didn’t know what was in the bill,” Strowbridge said.
“I don’t believe there’s anything called legislative intent,” she said. “Words have meaning. … Give those words the meaning that they have.”
If appellate courts increasingly face political pressure, it’s their own fault.
“When judges wander into legislating, that’s when the political pressure ramps up on them,” Strowbridge said.
As for coming to speed on the unfamiliar legal areas she would confront as a justice, “I study. I read,” she said. In fact, she considers The Florida Law Weekly good bedtime reading.
“I believe I am capable of learning what I need to learn,” Strowbridge said.
She was asked about two ethics proceedings against her when she was an attorney, and which she disclosed on her application.
One involved a misdirected fax that she neglected to return to the sender, not realizing that the Florida Bar had recently issued a rule requiring her to do that. She was required to take an ethics class.
The other involved a Bar grievance filed by a birth mother who’d given her child up for adoption and who later wished she’s chosen a more open form of the process. Strowbridge was not the woman’s attorney, but agreed to be more careful in communicating her role to mothers in the future.