The Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) on Monday formally sent a slate of six nominees to replace Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, who is stepping down in August, to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Judge Renatha Francis of the 15th Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County heads the list, and many political observers believe she is certain to be DeSantis’ pick — after all, he picked her before.
Francis was DeSantis’ original pick to fill a previous vacancy, but when he made the selection on May 26, 2020, she was four months shy of having 10 years membership in the Florida Bar, a constitutional requirement for sitting on the state Supreme Court.
After a court battle spurred by state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Windermere Democrat, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Francis didn’t meet the constitutional requirements at the time to take a place on the bench.
Thompson initially asked the court to order the JNC to conduct its process all over again, this time including more than one Black nominee, since Francis was the only Black nominee the first time and unqualified. But instead, the court simply ordered DeSantis to choose from the JNC’s original slate of nominees, and DeSantis chose Justice Jamie Grosshans.
The court had been without a Black member since January 2019, when DeSantis named three Justices to replace three outgoing Justices shortly after taking office. One of the outgoing Justices was Peggy Quince, a Black woman and the only Black Justice at the time. None of the replacements were Black. DeSantis sought to rectify that by naming Francis before the court’s ruling.
The other five nominees are Denise Harle, senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group; Judge Robert Long of the 1st District Court of Appeal; Judge Anne-Leigh Gaylord Moe of the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County; Judge Meredith Sasso of the 5th DCA; and Judge Adam Tanenbaum of the 1st DCA.
“I would like to extend my gratitude to the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission for recommending such an exemplary list of strong constitutionalist jurists and practitioners,” DeSantis said in a released statement.
“The JNC process is designed to select high-quality candidates for our courts. I would like to thank the Commissioners for their hard work and diligence. They have left me with a difficult choice, but I look forward to appointing our next Supreme Court Justice in the coming weeks.”
The release from DeSantis’ Office, however, indicated he wouldn’t automatically fall back on his previous pick of Francis.
“Governor DeSantis is committed to selecting a candidate for the Florida Supreme Court who has a keen legal mind and is devoted to the Florida and U.S. Constitutions,” the release states. “The Governor will make his selection based upon the merit and judicial philosophy of the candidates presented.”