It happened just as we feared. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday wielded a death blow to judicial diversity on the Florida Supreme Court.
By nominating Republican legal counsel Carlos Muñiz to the bench, he has shut out any chance to replace retiring Black Justice Peggy Quince with another Black justice.
Over the last two weeks, DeSantis appointed Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, both white, both Republican. Justice Quince as well as Justices Barbara Pariente and Fred Lewis reached mandatory retirement age 70.
Even though Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, is sponsoring legislation to peel away some of the executive branch's influence in judicial nominations, very little else was done to have swayed the governor’s decision. Outgoing governor, Rick Scott did not accept any candidate recommendations from the Black bar associations and the Diversity Nominating Committee.
Headline after headline, op-ed after op-ed warned of the obvious void and cultural imbalance that would occur if the court did not have the diversity that reflects the state’s population and the users of the justice system. It’s like the press was shouting in an empty room, while lawmakers showed inertia as DeSantis appointed one white or white Hispanic person after another to the bench. The latest appointment may even add an experience void, since Muñiz was not even a judge. Lagoa and Luck both served in the Third District Court of Appeal in South Florida. What’s worse is that these new appointees are relatively young, with their ages ranging from 39 to 51. They could sit for a very long time.
Tuesday Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo, stated the obvious on Tuesday that it’s the first time in nearly 40 years that there is now no Black justice on the Supreme Court. Rizzo continues to say that DeSantis “has no respect for the rule of the law, and is seeking to stack the courts with his political allies.” Rizzo we respect very much but we knew it was likely that if DeSantis was elected governor he would lean the court as far right as he could. The Monday morning quarterbacking question is, could more have been done to stop this real injustice to the citizens of Florida in general and the Black community in particular? Did the gubernatorial message of the last election say loudly enough that if the Republicans remained in Tallahassee – in addition to everything else they control – that they would have the power to make the court more Conservative?
Rizzo pledges to guard the reproductive rights of women and “stand up to the Governor's offensive to dismantle hard fought civil rights.”
The governor has already started to dismantle Floridian’s civil rights as signaled by his suspension of Susan Bucher as the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections; the suspension of duly elected former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel; and not giving Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes a chance to make her case, albeit he reversed Scott’s suspension and accepted her retirement.
Don’t be fooled because DeSantis appointed a Black sheriff in Broward in the place of Israel or that he and the Cabinet completed the pardon of the Groveland Four.
That is not going to appease the Black community’s need for a Black justice on the Supreme Court. No way do those moves even come close to what we have lost.