Five members of the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the appointment of Renatha Francis. Justice John Couriel recused himself. The court ordered Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to select a new nominee from a list of seven recommended by a judicial nominating commission.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had appointed Francis to the state supreme court on May 26, 2020, to succeed Robert Luck. In July, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-District 44) filed a lawsuit challenging the appointment. Thompson argued Francis was unqualified because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for the amount of time (10 years) required under the Florida Constitution. Francis will reach the 10-year membership requirement on September 24, 2020.
The court held that Francis was not eligible because she did not meet the eligibility requirements under the state constitution. It also held the governor violated the 60-day deadline for filling state supreme court vacancies provided by the state constitution. “The Governor has not satisfied his legal obligation to fill the vacancy by making a constitutionally valid appointment. … The Governor has not complied with the constitution’s clear commands,” the court wrote. DeSantis has until September 14, 2020, to select a replacement.
The Florida Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment whereby a judicial nominating commission screens potential judicial candidates and submits a list of nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from this list. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms.