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Governor-Elect DeSantis to Appoint New Supreme Court Justices

Governor-Elect DeSantis to Appoint New Supreme Court Justices

After two recent Supreme Court decisions and with the Governor’s race now decided, the process for selecting three new Florida Supreme Court justices has become a little clearer. The justices are retiring in early January 2019 due to reaching the mandatory retirement age. Their mandated retirement coincides with the transition from current Governor Rick Scott to the new Governor, whom we now know to be Ron DeSantis.

Governor Scott maintained for many months that he has the authority to appoint three new justices to replace the retiring justices. Governor Scott’s office reasoned, among other things, that the process of nominating, reviewing and selecting justices inherently must begin well before the justices’ appointment date. Logically, he urged, the sitting Governor should see that process through. This would help ensure the Supreme Court does not face an extended period in which it might lack its full complement of justices.

As the gubernatorial election and transition drew nearer, lawsuits made their way to the Supreme Court on the question of which Governor— the outgoing Governor or the incoming Governor, has the right to make the appointments. The Florida Supreme Court determined that the right belongs to the incoming Governor.

This only partially resolved the issue, however. The next question (and lawsuit) involved whether the existing Supreme Court Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC) could proceed with its process of receiving applications and reviewing candidates for the positions on the Supreme Court. After deliberation, the JNC presents a pool of candidates to the Governor. The Governor is limited to selecting from among this pool of candidates. Thus, the composition of the eventual pool of candidates presented to the new Governor is influenced whether the current JNC can move forward with its process or whether that process could be deferred until a new Governor is seated and the makeup of the JNC potentially changes.

The Supreme Court resolved this question in favor of allowing the existing JNC to move forward with the candidate selection process. We therefore can expect the JNC to present candidates to Governor-elect Ron DeSantis, and upon his taking office, for Governor DeSantis to appoint three new justices. The Governor-elect has said he will look for “constitutionally-based” justices, which is likely to alter the philosophical balance of the court.