In light of news the Florida Supreme Court will be without a black justice for the first time in 36 years, Democrats in the state Senate are pushing to reform the state’s judicial nominating panels.
“The latest nominations submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to the incoming governor underscore how politicized the process has become,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville.
“Of the 59 applicants, six of whom were African American, 11 names were sent by the JNC to the governor, and none were African American. How can a population of more than 3 million African Americans in this state have confidence in our highest court when their voices are being silenced?”
As Gibson points out, none of the 11 finalists for the court’s three openings were African American.
Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis will select the court’s newest members when he takes office. He will have to choose from the list he’s given; under a 2009 Supreme Court ruling, he is “not provided the authority … to reject (a JNC’s) list and request that a new list be certified,” for example.
Senate Democrats are proposing changes to how JNC members are selected, attempting to remove power from the Governor, who they argue has too much power over the commission.
The selections of Supreme Court nominees are made by the JNC, which contains nine members. Five of those members, enough for a majority, are chosen by the Governor. The remaining four are selected by the Florida Bar, but the Governor has veto power over those choices as well.
“Not only does the governor have absolute control over the process, he has unfettered power to select judges that are mirror reflections of his own politics and personal beliefs,” said state Sen. Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale.
“In a state as diverse as Florida, that cannot stand,” he said.
Thurston argues the process should be reformed to ensure members of the minority community are represented on the Florida Supreme Court.
“The fallout from these nominations is apparent to any African American or Hispanic who has stood in a courtroom seeking justice from those incapable of rendering it. The scales are heavily weighted against them.”
Senate Democrats say the Governor should only be allowed to nominate three of the JNC’s nine members. The Board of Governors of the Florida Bar would appoint the more, and the final three would be three lay members of the community agreed upon by the other six.
Prior to 2002, that method was used to select the commission, and Senate Democrats want to see a return.