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Ron DeSantis set to make first state Supreme Court pick

Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ office on Tuesday said the new governor “will make an important announcement regarding the Florida Supreme Court.”

The announcement is set for 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Freedom Tower in Miami.

DeSantis has three seats to fill; Justices Barbara ParienteR. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince all faced mandatory age-related retirement Tuesday.

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince have been regarded as the liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives.

Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote, though he has recently been voting with the conservative bloc.

“Judicial activism ends, right here and right now,” DeSantis – a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican – said in his inauguration speech Tuesday.

“I will only appoint judges who understand the proper role of the courts is to apply the law and Constitution as written, not to legislate from the bench,” he said. “The Constitution, not the judiciary, is supreme.”

One of the seats must be filled by a resident of the state’s Third Appellate District, which handles cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties; the other two seats are at-large.

The three nominees who live in the Third District are:

— John Daniel Couriel, a former federal prosecutor and now lawyer with the Kobre & Kim law firm in Miami. He also ran unsuccessfully for House District 114 in 2016 as a Republican.

— Barbara Lagoa, chief judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami. She was first appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006.

— Robert J. Luck, also a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal. Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the court in 2013.

In Florida, judicial vacancies are filled by appointment by the Governor from a list of applicants vetted and submitted by judicial nominating panels.

The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which whittled down 59 applicants to 11 finalists, was criticized for not including any blacks on its list.

DeSantis must pick from that list. A unanimous 2009 Supreme Court decision suggests a governor could not ask the JNC to start over even if he wanted to.

“The Governor is bound by the Florida Constitution to appoint a nominee from the JNC’s certified list, within sixty days of that certification,” the court wrote. “There is no exception to that mandate.”

Under the state constitution, judges and justices face mandatory retirement at age 70, though that was recently changed to 75 under an amendment OK’d by voters this November. It does not go into effect till July 1.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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