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Justice Raoul G. Cantero III has wasted little time making a name for himself on the Florida Supreme Court. Appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002, Cantero has emerged as a prolific, pro-business judge who has gained the respect of appellate experts for his well-argued and well-written opinions. Similarly, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced her resignation last week, the Cuban-American Bar Association wasted no time mounting a long-shot campaign to put Cantero, the grandson of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, in the running for the high court seat. CABA planned to meet this week at Adorno & Yoss in Miami to craft a letter to President Bush, urging him to consider the Cuban-American judge as a replacement for O’Connor, according to CABA president Antonio Castro. The nation’s highest court has not had a Hispanic member since 1932 when Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, a judge of Portuguese-Jewish descent, was appointed by President Herbert Hoover. Many Supreme Court observers predict Bush is likely to nominate a Hispanic. Cantero did not return a call for comment Tuesday. Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said the justice has not been contacted by the White House but called CABA’s support for Cantero “flattering.” U.S. Supreme Court watchers say Cantero’s ties to the president’s brother, his Cuban-American background, his well-regarded judicial abilities, and his conservative, pro-business views are potentially helpful to any campaign to get him on the nation’s highest court. On the other hand, they say, Cantero is not well known in conservative legal circles nationally, and his status as a state, rather than federal, judge might be a problem. Justices O’Connor and David Souter came from state courts, and were widely regarded as surprising their conservative supporters with liberal and moderate decisions. “Both history and circumstance dictate against naming a state Supreme Court justice or appeals court judge to the Supreme Court,” said David Yalof, a political science professor at the University of Connecticut who has written a book on the process of Supreme Court nominations. Yalof said it’s difficult for presidents to assess a judge’s potential leanings based on state court experience alone. President Ronald Reagan selected O’Connor from the Arizona Court of Appeals at the time of her appointment in 1981. But she did not turn out to be the staunch conservative that right-wingers had hoped for, often casting swing votes with the justices on her left. Justice David Souter, who was appointed from the New Hampshire Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush, has disappointed conservatives even more with his moderate to liberal-leaning opinions. Former Justice William Brennan, who became a leading liberal on the high court, also was appointed from the state bench. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who selected him, ruefully recalled the appointment as the second-biggest “damn fool thing I ever did.” The first, he said, was the appointment of Earl Warren as chief justice. Previous cases where a president misjudged a state court nominee’s leanings might make Cantero a tough sell, Yalof said. “There’s a fear that it’s hard to tell from the work produced by a state supreme court justice what kind of [U.S.] Supreme Court justice they will be,” he said. “And modern presidents do not want to be accused of choosing the wrong Supreme Court justice.” Another drawback for Cantero is that at least two other Hispanics, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Emilio Garza are better known and already have strong support from influential conservatives advising President Bush on Supreme Court nominations. CUBAN CARD Still, Cantero’s connection to Jeb Bush and the political importance of both Florida and the state’s Cuban-American community could help push Cantero into the running. “Being on the Supreme Court in Florida, being appointed by the president’s brother, that could be helpful,” said Mickey Ibarra, a former Clinton administration official turned lobbyist. Ibarra predicted that Bush would appoint “a moderate conservative that is in the mold of a Sandra Day O’Connor. I think if President Bush follows the example of President Reagan, I think it would be a great recipe for unity of our country.” Cantero might well fit that mold. Yalof said “the biggest thing going for Raoul Cantero is he’s a Cuban-American and this administration has political and personal sensibilities to nominating a Hispanic to the bench.” Cantero, 44, a Harvard University law school graduate, practiced corporate appellate law with Adorno & Yoss in Miami before his appointment to the state Supreme Court. Cantero is the first Cuban-American to sit on the state Supreme Court. During his tenure there, Cantero has earned a reputation for his intelligence and his pro-business leanings, which are reflected in his published opinions. In a 2004 case, Berges v. Infinity Insurance Co., Cantero, who in private practice often represented insurance companies, dissented from the majority in the reinstatement of a $1.9 million jury verdict for the plaintiff. The majority found that the insurer had delayed a claim, acting in bad faith. In his opinion, Cantero contended that an insurer’s “mistakes and miscues” did not qualify as bad faith, and accused plaintiff attorneys of employing “sophisticated legal strategies” to create bad faith claims. In the Berges opinion, Cantero — as in his forceful dissent last year in a case involving the liability of utilities in tort lawsuits brought by members of the public — expressed concern about the impact of tort lawsuits and large damage awards on prices to consumers. Cantero, who considers himself a devout Roman Catholic, also seemed to lean toward favoring Gov. Bush’s school voucher program in recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Bush’s appeal of a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling striking down the program as unconstitutional. Although Cantero has not addressed the constitutionality of abortion from the bench, he addressed the morality of abortion in a letter to the Miami Herald. After the 1994 murder of a Pensacola abortion doctor, Cantero wrote a letter to the Miami Herald condemning the doctor’s slaying, but likening abortion to murder. While Cantero’s opinions have been regarded as conservative in terms of business issues, so far he has not been enmeshed as a judge in many hot-button social issues, such as abortion. One exception was when he voted with all his colleagues in 2004 to declare Terri’s Law — the measure championed by Gov. Bush to reinsert Terri Schiavo’s feeding and hydration tubes — unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the constitutional separation of powers.

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