DeSantis’ state Supreme Court appointments cause concern for abortion rights groups and others

by | Jan 14, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis is hitting the ground running in his second week in office. It comes after his successful first week on the job in which even Democrats were singing his praises.

“It’s only been a few days, but it has been a good start,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, on Friday.

But, DeSantis’ first announcement of the week might be of concern to Democrats and  political groups that fall on the left of the political spectrum.

DeSantis began Monday in Miami where he announced that Judge Robert Luck, 39, of the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami, is the second of the three appointments he gets to make to fill vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court.

Luck will join his colleague Barbara Lagoa, who had served as chief judge on the same appeals court until she was appointed by DeSantis last week to the state’s highest court.

“Governor DeSantis has demonstrated again today that he is committed to appointing judges who have the utmost respect for the separation of powers defined in our Constitution,” said Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in response to the appointment. “I wish Justice Luck well as he begins his service on our state’s highest court.”

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of DeSantis’ closest allies, tweeted Monday morning that the court is going through a transformation.

“Governor Desantis is changing the FL Supreme Court from one of the most liberal courts in America to likely the most conservative. Another Grand Slam pick with Justice Luck!,” Gaetz posted.

As expected, Luck is a more conservative judge than the three justices who  were forced to step down from the Florida Supreme Court as the result of a state mandatory retirement age for judges. The three justices, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, were known to comprise the more liberal arm of the court that made a difference in a number of court rulings over the years, including in some key abortion cases.

“Given Governor DeSantis’ commitment to reshape a court that has served as a check on unconstitutional efforts to criminalize doctors and interfere in women’s private medical decisions we, of course, have concerns about women’s abortion rights moving forward,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

Lewis and Pariente were appointed by Democrat Governor Lawton Chiles in the late 1990’s, and the third, Peggy Quince, was appointed through a joint agreement between Chiles and incoming Governor Jeb Bush,

Both Luck and Lagoa, along with whomever DeSantis chooses as his third appointment, will change the philosophical makeup of the court. The two justices have ties to the Federalist Society, an influential conservative organization of legal professionals and students. Nine of the 11 judges chosen as finalists for the Supreme Court described themselves as members of the group.

The Federalist Society believes judges should be strict “constitutionalists” as opposed to “judicial activists” who use their positions to make law  through their rulings from the bench.

In an op-ed piece that appeared in the Gainesville Sun earlier this month, attorney Horace Moore, Sr., asserted that judges that align themselves with the Federalist Society are a threat to individual rights in Florida.

“With a Republican-controlled legislature and governor, overseen by a Federalist Society-inspired Florida Supreme Court, there is nothing anyone can do in the near future to stop the further erosion of our civil rights, workers’ rights, public educational system, environmental system and more. Legal abortion and affirmative action will be things of the past.”

During last week’s news conference announcing her appointment, Lagoa reaffirmed her opinions about the role of the courts.

“I am particularly mindful of the fact that under our constitutional system it is for the Legislature, not the courts, to make the law. It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people’s representatives,” Lagoa said.

In his application for the Supreme Court, Luck wrote, “I understand how the judiciary — what Hamilton called our least dangerous branch — fits into our system of government.”

“Having worked in each of the three branches, I understand the modest role of the judge in reviewing the laws enacted by the legislature, the actions taken by the executive, and the findings of the lower courts.” Luck went on to say.

The Supreme Court will be asked to rule on cases involving the controversial the state’s “stand your ground” law, as well as other gun rights issues. It will also likely be asked to make decisions in abortion rights cases. In the past, the state’s high court has ruled that abortion is a privacy right that should not be interfered with by the state. That opinion could change with the new court. 

“Governor DeSantis has already pledged his support for bills like House Bill 235, one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills ever to be introduced in Florida,” Goodhue said. “This bill provides no exception for rape or incest or even for fetal anomalies. These types of bills are opposed by everyone from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio, who vetoed a similar bill citing that it was established to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States and would waste millions in taxpayer dollars just to be overturned.”

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