NAACP wants committee to reopen Supreme Court nominations after final applicant list fails to include any African-Americans

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

The Florida NAACP is unhappy that the final list of proposed justices for the state Supreme Court presented to Governor-elect Ron DeSantis this week does not include any African-Americans, and is calling on the committee that reviews applicants to reopen the nominating process.

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission sent a list of 11 nominees to DeSantis on Tuesday. None of the 11 are black, though there were six such applicants out of the original group of 59 who applied back in September.

Justice Peggy Quince is currently the only African-American on the Supreme Court, but she and two other justices – Barbara Pariente and Fred Lewis – are slated to retire in January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age. DeSantis will select their replacements.

Since no African-Americans are on the list that DeSantis has before him now, it’s possible the Florida Supreme Court would be going without a black justice for the first time in decades. Joseph Hatchett was the court’s first African-American justice, serving from 1975 through 1979; Justice Leander Shaw joined the court in 1983, and Quince joined the court in 1999.

“It’s a shame and disgrace we are still fighting for equality at all levels of government for black people and particularly representation on the state Supreme Court,” said Adora Obi Nweze, the president of the NAACP Florida State Conference in a statement.

A coalition of minority bar organizations filed a brief with the Florida Supreme Court earlier this month, arguing that the period for applicants to the high court should be extended until the end of this month to allow for more women and people of color to apply.

People of color are underrepresented in Florida’s judicial system. Only 6.4 percent are black, 10.6 percent are Hispanic and 0.4 percent are Asian, the court brief said.

The NAACP says it wants to “encourage” DeSantis to make appointments to agencies, senior staff and statewide boards that reflect the diversity of Florida, “ensuring blacks and minorities are represented at all levels in the new Administration.”

“With more than 3 million black residents, we know there are qualified individuals who can serve this state. The NAACP and people of Florida are watching,” Obi Nweze said.

“Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis is grateful for the work of the Judicial Nominating Commission in their assessment and selection of the nominees to fill the three upcoming vacancies on Florida’s Supreme Court,” said DeSantis transition spokesman David Vasquez. “The Governor-Elect looks forward to evaluating each potential justice and is committed to appointing the three best individuals to serve on our state’s highest court

Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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