DeSantis appoints Federalist Society member to Florida Supreme Court

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday appointed Renatha Francis to a vacant seat on Florida Supreme Court, a move that comes two years after her initial appointment to the high court fell through because she did not meet minimum constitutional requirements.

DeSantis tapped Francis to replace Justice Alan Lawson, who is retiring at the end of the month 14 years ahead of Florida’s mandatory retirement age for judges, which is 75. Frances was among six applicants sent to DeSantis by an advisory panel who interviewed potential Lawson replacements. She was long viewed as the heavy favorite to secure the appointment because DeSantis had tried to appoint her just two years earlier.

Francis, 45, a Jamaican-born Palm Beach County judge, will become the second Black woman to ever sit on the Florida Supreme Court, and the second woman to serve on the current court. She is also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization DeSantis often turns to when making judicial appointments.

Francis is part of DeSantis' sweeping remake of the Florida Supreme Court into a more conservative institution. He has appointed four of the seven justices on the high court and they will decide key cases, including whether to uphold Florida’s new law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy without exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

During a Palm Beach County press conference where he announced the appointment, DeSantis said “politics” scuttled Francis’ last appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, which was upended because at the time Francis was not a member of Florida Bar for 10 years, a requirement in the state constitution.

“We had someone file a lawsuit to try and keep her off the court because they said she can’t be appointed until she reaches the 10 year mark,” DeSantis said during the Friday press conference. “It was disappointing … it was all politics, it was not anything based in principle.”

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) filed a lawsuit at the time asking the high court to invalidate the 2020 appointment because she did not meet the requirements. In a unanimous decision, the court concluded “the Governor has not complied with the Constitution’s clear commands.” The decision was written by DeSantis-appointed Justice Carlos Muñiz.

Thompson told POLITICO on Friday that she still does not support Francis’ appointment and thinks DeSantis is politicizing the judiciary.

“Floridians lack confidence in the courts because they see that people are being appointed based on a political agenda rather than knowledge of the law and fitness,” she said. “It’s disturbing.”

During her interview before the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commissioner in June, Jesse Panuccio, a lawyer who served as a high ranking official in former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department, blasted “credentialists” for blocking Francis’ last appointment.

“I thought it was a disgrace,” Panuccio said during the interview. “I’m sorry that it happened.”

During the Friday press conference, Francis said the fact that she is an immigrant gives her a greater appreciation for the United States.

“I stand before you the epitome of the American dream,” said Francis, whose mother did not graduate high school. “My beginnings are humble.”

She said that applying laws “as written” are the bedrock of her judicial philosophy, and “essential to preserving liberty.”