Appellate Judge Charles Canady, who as a congressman helped prosecute then-President Bill Clinton at his 1999 impeachment trial, was appointed Thursday to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Canady, now on the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland, will replace Justice Raoul Cantero after his resignation takes effect Sept. 6. Crist has not yet filled a second high court vacancy. Justice Kenneth Bell also has resigned effective Oct. 1.
Cantero and Bell, the only two justices appointed solely by Crist's predecessor, Jeb Bush, have been the Supreme Court's most dependable conservatives.
Canady, 54, comes from the same mold. He made his conservative, non-activist leanings clear in his application by promising always to be mindful of "the limited role of the judicial branch in our democratic system of government."
"I give my commitment to work as a justice to further the cause of the rule of law and to strengthen the system of justice through every decision I make," Canady said during a news conference at the Governor's Mansion.
Canady, a Republican like Crist and Bush, was part of the GOP-controlled House's legal team that argued President Clinton, a Democrat, should be removed for lying under oath about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate acquitted Clinton.
In his closing argument Canady equated lying about the affair with lying about sexual harassment.
"He sat there in the White House, and then he put on his most sincere face," Canady said. "He swore to God to tell the truth, and he lied."
Later, Canady served as general counsel to Bush, who then appointed him to the appellate court in his hometown. Canady also once served as a state legislator.
As Bush's top lawyer, Canady defended the then-governor's voucher program, which let children from failing public schools switch to private schools at taxpayer expense. The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that it was unconstitutional.
Canady also had a conservative voting record in Congress, including votes to ban gay adoptions in the District of Columbia, end preferential treatment by race in college admissions, establish voucher programs and restrict federal aid only to schools that allow voluntary prayer.
"He is the kind of man that certainly will serve the people of Florida well," Crist said. "He is kind, he is compassionate, he is fair, he is brilliant and he'll do great."
Crist selected Canady from five finalists recommended by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission for an at-large position. He made his choice just a day after interviewing the nominees. Crist will select from three names for Bell's north Florida seat.
Two more justices will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next year. That will give Crist an unprecedented opportunity to appoint a majority of the seven-member Supreme Court in his first term.
Cantero, who was born in Spain of Cuban parents, was the Supreme Court's first Hispanic member and Crist passed up an opportunity to appoint another. The finalists included Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga of West Palm Beach, a Cuban native, and Miami lawyer Edward G. Guedes, whose parents immigrated from Cuba.
A news release from the governor's office, though, included praise for Canady's appointment from Cuban American Bar Association president Marlene Quintana. She said, "Like Justice Cantero, Judge Canady is an intellectual jurist with unquestioned integrity."
The other nominees were Circuit Judge Kevin Emas of Miami and 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Vincent G. Torpy Jr. of Daytona Beach.
Crist's choice also drew praise from Florida Chamber of Commerce president Mark Wilson who said he hoped it would be "a sign of more good things to come" in the other high court appointments.
However, it disappointed Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, saying the appointment of a "reliably ideological politician" shatters Crist's moderate image.
"This is an appointment that could have and would have been made by Jeb Bush," Simon said.
Nominees for Bell's position are 1st District Court of Appeal Judges Ricky L. Polston and Peter Webster, both of Tallahassee, and Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace III of Jacksonville.
Bell, of Pensacola, and Cantero, of Miami, both said they were resigning to return to their hometowns for family reasons even though they are the most junior justices. Both were appointed in 2002.
Canady said he plans to stay on the high court until mandatory retirement if voters return him to office.
Under Florida's merit retention system, Canady will come up for a yes-no vote in the 2010 general election. If retained, he'll then come up for retention votes every six years.
No justice has ever been voted out of office, but if that happens the governor would appoint a replacement.
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