Reshaping the Florida Supreme Court: 11 potential justices now being considered in Tallahassee

Fl Supreme Court
The current Florida Supreme Court. 3 out of 7 are retiring. Fl Supreme Court photo

In the first step in a major – and likely conservative – reshaping of Florida’s Supreme Court, a key legal panel Tuesday recommended eleven people to replace three liberal-leaning justices who are retiring.

Republican Governor-elect Ron DeSantis is likely to pick three new justices for the seven-member court on or before he takes office Jan. 8.

This is the first time in decades that so many justices will be replaced at once. And, due to a change approved by voters this fall, all the new justices will serve longer than they do now – until age 75. (The current age for retirement is 70).

Voters get a chance to decide whether to retain Florida Supreme Court justices periodically. Whoever DeSantis chooses this year will face voters in 2020. The other current justices – Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, C. Alan Lawson and Charles Canady – are up for a retention vote in 2022.

The new High Court faces a long list of pending legal questions, including a review of the state’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law, a case that challenges whether Florida is providing adequate education as required in the state’s Constitution, and whether cities should be allowed to set their own minimum wage laws. Advocates for a woman’s right to choose to end her pregnancy are also keenly watching developments on the new court, chiefly because the current state Supreme Court has consistently upheld the right to privacy in the state Constitution. The privacy clause has led the Court to repeatedly reject attempts by the state Legislature to restrict a woman’s right to choose.

The three 70-year-old retiring justices – Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis – all joined the Supreme Court two decades ago. Pariente and Lewis were appointed by the late Democrat Gov. Lawton Chiles and Quince was appointed jointly by Chiles and Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

The new eleven nominees sent to DeSantis today were vetted by a panel of nine lawyers appointed by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott called the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.  By law, DeSantis could ask the Judicial Nominating Commission for more nominees to pick from if he so chooses.

In a statement Tuesday, DeSantis said: “Governor Scott leaves behind an outstanding legacy of strong judicial appointments while in office. I look forward to his counsel as I work to evaluate each nominee to ensure that the next three justices appointed to the Florida Supreme Court will respect our Constitution and the rule of law and serve our state with distinction.”

The eleven nominees were winnowed down from an initial roster of 59 applicants – a list that some groups criticized, saying it didn’t include enough females or people of color. Only three women have ever been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, and two are now retiring. Two women are on the list sent to Tallahassee Tuesday.

Here are the nominees:

John Daniel Couriel, a South Florida attorney.

Jonathan D. Gerber, A Fourth District Court of Appeal judge who was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009.

Jamie Rutland Grosshans, a Fifth District Court of Appeal judge who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2018.

Jeffrey T. Kuntz, a Fourth District Court of Appeal judge who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016.

Bruce Kyle, a former state legislator who is a judge in the 20th Circuit.

Barbara Lagoa, a Third District Court of Appeal judge appointed by Jeb Bush in 2006.

Robert J. Luck, a Third District Court of Appeal judge appointed by Rick Scott in 2017.

Carlos Genaro Muniz, currently General Counsel for the U.S. Dept. Of Education. Muniz previously served as deputy attorney general and chief of staff to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and as deputy general counsel for Governor Jeb Bush.

Timothy D. Osterhaus, a First District Court of Appeal judge who was appointed by Rick Scott in 2013.

Samuel J., Salario Jr., a Second District Court of Appeal judge who was appointed by Scott in 2014.

Anuraag “Raag” Singhal, a judge in the 17th Circuit who was appointed by Scott in 2011 and reelected subsequently.

  • Phoenix reporters Mitch Perry and C.D. Davidson-Hiers contributed to this report. 

 

Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.

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