Florida’s high court had no black justice for the first time in decades under Gov. Ron DeSantis, who filled that void Tuesday with a new appointment.
TALLAHASSEE – Gov. Ron DeSantis filled a controversial void Tuesday on the Florida Supreme Court by naming a black jurist to the seven-member panel, along with a Hispanic attorney who will replace justices recently named to a federal appeals court.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Renatha Francis, who was born in Jamaica, will be the first black to serve on the court since Justice Peggy Quince retired in January 2019. John Couriel, a lawyer with the Miami firm, Kobre & Kim, also is a first-generation Floridian whose father was born in Cuba.
“I think it’s a credit, for one to South Florida. Every time we’re doing this, you have so many great candidates… I think that’s a testament to a lot of the great talent we have here,” DeSantis said in announcing the appointments at an event in downtown Miami.
Because three justices retired just as DeSantis took office and two of his replacements left quickly for other jobs, the governor now has named five appointees to the Supreme Court, four of them from South Florida. Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck were short-timers, nominated by President Donald Trump for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which they joined in December.
The 29-member Legislative Black Caucus had encouraged DeSantis to name Francis, the lone black nominee among the nine names recommended to the governor earlier this year by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.
When Quince retired, it marked the first time in 36 years that the state’s Supreme Court had no black justice.
But the coronavirus pandemic has slowed DeSantis’s action on the court vacancies. Still, the delay also reduces the impact of a twist to Francis’s appointment.
Francis, 42, graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law in 2010 and became a member of the state bar on September 24 of that year. The Florida Constitution requires that a Supreme Court justice be a bar member “for the preceding 10 years,” so she will not join the court until the fall.
Francis has been a circuit court judge since 2017, with the last six months in the family and probate division in Palm Beach County. She graduated from the University of West Indies in 2000 and operated a bar and a trucking company before coming to the U.S.
A former federal prosecutor, Couriel, 42, is a 2000 graduate of Harvard University and 2003 graduate of its law school. He joins Justice Carlos Muniz on the court, with both being named by DeSantis without any prior judicial service.
Francis and Couriel will face a merit retention vote on the November 2022 ballot.
All of the justices DeSantis has named are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization whose website has said it supports “individual freedom and the role of the courts in saying what the law is, rather than what they wish it to be.”
DeSantis made a passing reference to his respect for a court that keeps its distance from policy-making by mentioning that Francis shared a Caribbean heritage with Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first treasury secretary and an author of The Federalist Papers.
“Hamilton articulated what Judge Francis deeply understands: That the judiciary lacks authority to indulge its legislative preferences; that courts cannot exercise its personal will, but merely apply a legal judgment,” DeSantis said.
In other matters, DeSantis also pumped up the state’s prospects for hosting the Republican National Convention, now slated for Aug. 24-27 in Charlotte, N.C.. Trump threatened Monday to pull the convention from North Carolina if Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper does not allow full-capacity gatherings by then.
DeSantis said he’d welcome the Republican convention, or the Democratic National Convention, scheduled for Milwaukee, Wis., on Aug. 17-20.
“The door is open, we want to have the conversation,” DeSantis said. “Whether it’s the RNC, DNC, whatever, because I think it would be good for the people of Florida.”
DeSantis said Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and Tampa could all be potential host sites. The Texas GOP chair also has touted his state as a possible RNC location, while Vice President Mike Pence on Monday said that Texas, Florida and Georgia would be considered if North Carolina was shunned.
DeSantis said he hadn’t spoken with Trump about Florida hosting, but said White House officials and the re-election campaign know the state wants to “work with them.”
“Florida wants to work with you – if you’re a business, if you’re a sports team, if you have some of these events, we want to work with you to get to ‘yes,’” DeSantis said.
The Florida Department of Health reported another 424 coronavirus cases Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 52,170 cases to date. Another seven COVID-19 deaths brought the state’s toll to 2,259 fatalities.
There have been 9,482 people hospitalized in Florida with the virus and 924,920 tests have been conducted. While the state’s overall average shows 5.6% test positive for the virus, since early May 5% or less have been turning up positive, according to daily results.