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Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded authority in appointing Palm Beach County judge to Florida Supreme Court

Renatha Francis didn't meet constitutional requirement for appointment, but outcome doesn't change, high court rules
Gov. Ron DeSantis congratulates Renatha Francis on appointment to Florida Supreme Court
Posted at 1:54 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 14:57:28-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The Florida Supreme Court said Thursday that Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority when he appointed a Palm Beach County judge to the high court before she was eligible.

In a 5-0 ruling, the court agreed with U.S. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Fla., who sought to invalidate the Republican governor's appointment of Renatha Francis because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years, as required by the state Constitution.

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"The governor did exceed his authority in making this appointment," the justices said in their ruling. "In a nutshell, when a governor fills by appointment a vacant judicial office, the appointee must by constitutionally eligible for that office at the time of the appointment."

However, the court also rejected Thompson's request to require the judicial nominating commission to certify a new list of candidates and order DeSantis to appoint someone new.

"There is no legal justification for us to require a replacement appointment from a new list of candidates, rather than from the one that is already before the governor," the ruling said. "And the correct remedy (an appointment from the existing list of eligible nominees) would be contrary to Thompson's stated objectives in filing this case. Therefore, we hold Thompson to the remedy she requested and deny her petition."

When DeSantis appointed Francis in May, she was several months shy of the required 10-year mark. She was admitted to the Florida Bar on Sept. 24, 2010.

Francis, who was born in Jamaica, will be the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court.

"Judge Francis, your story's inspirational," DeSantis told her at the time of her appointment. "Thank you for your willingness to serve and congratulations."

Judge Renatha Francis smiles after being appointed to Florida Supreme Court
Palm Beach County Judge Renatha Francis says she is "truly the epitome of the American dream" during a news conference to announce her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, May 26, 2020, in Miami.

Francis said in May that she was "incredibly honored and humbled" and "truly the epitome of the American dream."

"I'm truly grateful, but more than that, I'm humbled that I get to be a part of this American experiment and to serve at the highest level of our state judiciary," Francis said. "The Florida Supreme Court protects the people's liberty, and part of doing that is respecting the limited role that judges play in our constitutional system of government."

Francis is filling one of two spots vacated by Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who were elevated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but she won't take the bench in Tallahassee until September. DeSantis also appointed her to Palm Beach County's circuit court in 2019.