Jacquet filed a bill this week (HB 379) that would weaken the power of the Governor and The Florida Bar when it comes to appointing members to those commissions. He joins Thurston, who filed his version of the legislation (SB 86) in August.
Currently, the nine-member panels are controlled by the Governor. Five members are appointing by the Governor, all of whom must reside in the jurisdiction covered by the respective commissions.
The remaining four individuals are Florida Bar members recommended by the Bar’s Board of Governors. But the state’s Governor has veto power over those recommendations.
The legislation from Thurston and Jacquet would instead limit the Governor to appointing just three members, each of whom must live in the relevant jurisdiction. The Florida Bar Board of Governors would appoint another three, also subject to those residential requirements.
The final three would be lay members of the community agreed upon by the other six appointees.
Democrats pushed the issue prior to the 2019 Session, as Supreme Court Justice Peggy A. Quince’s term was set to expire in January. None of the Supreme Court replacements nominated by the attending Judicial Nominating Commission were black, leaving the Court without a black justice for the first time in 36 years.
But reform efforts ultimately failed. That led Thurston and Jacquet to revisit the issue during the 2020 Session.
“Gov. Ron DeSantis addressed the Judicial Luncheon at the Bar’s Annual Convention in Palm Beach County earlier this summer and said that when it comes to appointing judges, he considers diversity a priority,” Jacquet said in a statement Friday.
“However, Florida’s current judiciary does not accurately reflect our state’s diversity. Women and minorities are significantly underrepresented as judges in Florida in proportion to their numbers in the general population.
“Furthermore, the public cannot be confident that the judiciary will fulfill its promise of impartiality when judges are being selected based on politics rather than merit.”
Thurston added his hope that the Governor would have less control over the process.
“SB 86 limits the ability of governors and politics to directly influence the nomination of candidates for Florida Supreme Court vacancies, the bill is part of a larger legislative effort to ensure that JNCs remain impartial and independent,” Thurston said.
“Floridians expect better than a governor’s whim when it comes to appointing the men and women who have the power to interpret laws.”
The bills would also terminate members’ terms on July 1, 2020 and set up a new staggered term system. And no more than five members of each commission could be from the same political party. Members would also be barred from serving more than two full terms.