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Luck's Appointment Creates Another Florida Supreme Court Opening For DeSantis

Florida Supreme Court building
The votes will allow Gov. Ron DeSantis to again place his imprint on the Florida Supreme Court, which was transformed into a conservative court by his appointments shortly after taking office in January. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In moves that will pave the way for Gov. Ron DeSantis to appoint two more justices to the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Justice Robert Luck’s appointment to a federal appeals court and set the stage for Justice Barbara Lagoa to join him.

As is typical, the Senate’s 64-31 vote in favor of Luck’s confirmation to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals occurred with no discussion or debate. Following the vote, the Senate overwhelmingly approved what is known as a “cloture motion,” setting up a vote on Lagoa’s confirmation to the same appellate court as early as Wednesday.

The votes will allow DeSantis to again place his imprint on the Florida Supreme Court, which was transformed into a conservative court by his appointments shortly after taking office in January.

DeSantis went on social media to congratulate Luck after Tuesday’s vote.

READ MORE: Florida Supreme Court stories on WUSF

“Justice Luck has served the state of Florida well and will continue his great work as a federal appeals court judge,” the Republican governor tweeted.

President Donald Trump in September tapped Luck and Lagoa to fill vacancies on the Atlanta-based appellate court, which handles cases filed in Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The vacancies were created by the retirements of longtime appellate judges Stanley Marcus and Gerald Tjoflat.

DeSantis in January appointed Lagoa, Luck and Justice Carlos Muñiz to the Florida Supreme Court to replace three outgoing justices --- Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince --- who were forced to step down after reaching a mandatory retirement age. The outgoing trio had been part of a four-justice majority that repeatedly thwarted the Republican-dominated Legislature and former Gov. Rick Scott in recent years.

Addressing The Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention in Washington, D.C. last week, DeSantis said the possibility of reshaping the court was one of the reasons he ran for governor last year, labeling the “activist majority” on the court as “one of kind of the thorns in the side” of Florida Republican leaders’ policy-making efforts.

The majority “would rewrite laws, rewrite the Constitution and basically showed very little respect for the political branches,” DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, said Thursday.

DeSantis’ three appointments established a decidedly conservative majority on the seven-member court, which the former congressman said he intends to reinforce with replacements for Lagoa and Luck.

“I think that we are on a good path,” the governor told members of The Federalist Society. “I think we’ve got a lot of great people, so as good as Barbara and Bobby Luck have been, I don’t know if I’ll quite get to that level, but we’ll get pretty close.”

Florida’s U.S. senators -- both Republicans -- applauded the confirmation Tuesday of Luck, a 40-year-old who has been the youngest member of the state Supreme Court.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio issued a statement calling Luck “a well-qualified nominee who has served honorably in various capacities in both the federal and Florida state justice systems.”

Scott, who was elected to the Senate last year, issued a statement that hailed Trump’s appointment of Luck, “a native Floridian who has dedicated himself to a career in public service.” Scott noted that he had also tapped Luck for judicial posts while serving as governor.

“As governor, I had the distinct pleasure to appoint Justice Luck to the bench twice --- first to the Miami-Dade circuit court in 2013, and later to Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal in 2017. I’m confident Justice Luck will continue to serve our state and nation well, and I am honored to support his confirmation to the federal bench,” Scott said.

Tuesday’s action jump-starts the process for DeSantis to select replacements for Luck and Lagoa, who sailed through the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last month.

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission shortly will begin accepting applications for Luck’s replacement, a process that also will begin soon for Lagoa’s replacement, following her expected confirmation by the Senate.

The commission will have up to 60 days to provide a list of potential appointees to the governor, who will have up to two months to finalize his selections.

Commission Chairman Daniel Nordby told The News Service of Florida the Senate’s “broad and bipartisan support” of Luck and Lagoa is “a testament to their records of distinguished service on Florida’s state courts.”

The Supreme Court nominating commission will convene in the coming days to begin the process, added Nordby, who served as a general counsel to Scott in the governor’s office.

“The JNC will issue a public call for applications, investigate the applicants’ backgrounds and qualifications, and conduct in-person interviews of potential nominees,” Nordby said.

The commission then “will recommend between three and six highly qualified nominees for Governor DeSantis to consider for appointment to each vacancy,” said Nordby, a partner with Shutts & Bowen LLP.

DeSantis has said he expects to finalize his appointments early next year.

DeSantis frequently points out that, with two looming appointments, he will have placed five justices on the Supreme Court after just a little more than a year on the job.

In his remarks to The Federalist Society last week, DeSantis compared that to two Republican predecessors, Scott and Jeb Bush, who served a combined 16 years and appointed a total of three justices.

“I think that’s kind of neat,” he said.