Governor Rick Scott has begun the process to replace three Florida Supreme Court justices who must retire in January.
On Tuesday afternoon Scott said that he had asked the nine-member Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to begin reviewing highly qualified successors to longtime serving Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince, who are required by the state constitution to leave the court in early January because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.
The three are all liberal-leaning, meaning their departure could dramatically affect the nature of the court moving forward if Scott gets his way. If Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis wins in November, he would likely select similarly conservative jurists.
Whether Scott will have the power to replace the three justices is under dispute. As a candidate for the U.S. Senate, Scott would be seated in Washington on January 3 if elected, and the Florida Supreme Court justices will have their last day on the job on January 7. The next governor will be sworn in on January, 8, 2019.
Two groups last year filed a lawsuit challenging Scott’s power to choose the incoming justices. The Florida Supreme Court dismissed the case, however, saying that they couldn’t rule on an action that hadn’t happened yet.
The last time that a similar situation arose was twenty years ago, when Jeb Bush was elected to succeed Lawton Chiles. At that time, Chiles and Bush worked together to select Justice Quince.
In his statement, Scott says he “intends to follow this precedent” and will invite the governor-elect to conduct his own interviews of the nominees following the General election.
“The Governor’s expectation is that he and the governor-elect – like governor-elect Bush – will agree on the selection of three justices who will serve with distinction. Governor Scott will not appoint any justice to the Florida Supreme Court until the governor-elect has had an opportunity to interview the nominees and review their references and qualifications,” Scott said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has already said that’s a non-starter, telling the Florida Phoenix last month that “the moment I become Governor-elect, I will immediately file an injunction to prevent Rick Scott from seating three radical, right-wing justices.”
“And I will convene, as part of my transition team, a task force of Florida’s finest legal and Constitutional scholars to secure our right to seat three mainstream, respectable jurists who reflect the diversity of experience and opinion in our state.”
DeSantis did not respond to an inquiry by the Florida Phoenix.