The Florida Supreme Court denied petitions by national political groups League of Women Voters and Common Cause to restart the application process for three upcoming vacancies on its bench, ruling on Friday that the Judicial Nominating Commission was right to pick nominees before Jan. 8, when the spots officially open up.
But retiring justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince had other ideas.
“The majority today has reached an unfounded result that ignores the plain and explicit language of the Florida Constitution that the voters have established as our sacred governing document,” Lewis wrote, dissenting from the majority opinion.
The dispute centered on two phrases in the Florida Constitution under article V, section 11.
One states that the governor shall appoint a replacement “whenever a judicial vacancy occurs,” while another asserts that the JNC shall nominate replacements ”within 30 days from the occurrence of a vacancy.”
Read the full court order:
The majority — Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Alan Lawson and Jorge Labarga — found for the JNC, which interprets that 30-day window as a deadline for making nominations. That way, the JNC could start the process before judges leave the bench and have them replaced before the 30 days are up.
“That is the most reasonable reading of the language and is consistent with this court’s precedent analyzing similar language,” Canady wrote.
But the minority pushed back, arguing that the JNC can’t act until there’s an actual vacancy once a judge is gone. Its stance is in line with the petitioners’, who wanted to extend the deadline for judicial applicants.
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Lewis accused the majority of ignoring “the will of the people” to forge its own path.
“I will not sit silently while the majority muddles—or disregards—our Constitution and related rules,” Lewis wrote.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott triggered the nomination process Oct. 15, hoping to select the three new justices himself. But the high court shut him down, ruling that Florida’s next governor should make the decision.
Republican Ron DeSantis will be Florida’s next governor, following a wafer-thin win and court-mandated recount. DeSantis will take the baton from fellow Republican Scott on Jan 8., the same day Lewis, Pariente and Quince retire, and he will select their replacements.
Quince said the court’s decision was practical but not constitutional. She argued the earliest the JNC should start considering applicants is Dec. 8 — 30 days before the vacancies.
“If Governor Scott is unable to make the appointments, he is similarly unable to utilize the 30-day extension,” Quince wrote.
The JNC will meet in Orlando on Nov. 27 to select its final nominees.