The first of the three justices appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis shortly after taking office in January was formally welcomed to the court during an investiture ceremony in Tallahassee Friday. An Investiture is the formal ceremony during which the governor presents the new justice’s credentials to the court.
The Investiture of Justice Barbara Lagoa as the 87th Justice of the Florida Supreme Court was held Friday afternoon in the courtroom of the state’s high court.
The court announced Thursday that the other two new members of the bench — justices Robert Luck and Carlos Muniz — will take part in a joint investiture ceremony on Sept. 24. Investiture ceremonies are usually held months after a justice is appointed.
Justice Lagoa was the first of DeSantis’ three historic appointments to the state supreme court. Prior to being promoted to the high court, Lagoa had served as chief judge on the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami. Luck also came from the Third District Court of Appeals, while Muniz Muniz had been serving as general counsel for the U.S. Department of Education. Muniz also worked as a lawyer for Gov. Jeb Bush, chief of staff for Attorney General Pam Bondi and also served in the House Speaker’s Office.
The three DeSantis appointments are considered to be more conservative than the three more liberal-leaning members they succeeded — Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and R. Fred Lewis — who were significant in blocking conservative issues in their rulings. The three were forced to leave the court after reaching a mandatory retirement age for justices.
Some have said the appointments have shifted the Florida Supreme Court from being one of the more liberal state courts in the nation, to being the most conservative.
That fact wasn’t lost on Republican legislators this year. Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotasassa, who said at the end of the session that “I don’t think we would ever tried what we did this year under the old Supreme Court because we know it would have gone right into the ditch.”
Lee was specifically referring to a new school voucher program that DeSantis signed into law Thursday that will provide 18,000 scholarships so that low and middle-income families can send their children to private schools. A similar program that was idea of then Gov. Jeb Bush 20 years ago was struck down by the previous court as unconstitutional because it gave state money to private institutions.
Supporters of this year’s voucher law know it will also be challenged in the courts, but they also know the outcome will likely be different.
As GateHouse News reported, backers of other conservative issues, such as abortion, medical malpractice and workers comp, don’t believe the Legislature went far enough in passing laws that could have had a better chance of withstanding challenges before the new high court.
“With a very different Florida Supreme Court in place, we hoped the Legislature would revisit important workers’ compensation and medical malpractice laws invalidated by the previous court,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a business-backed advocacy organization.
“Unfortunately, the Legislature missed an opportunity by failing to do so,” he added.
John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, a group that pushes proposals to restrict abortions was also disappointed the Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t try to do as other states passed more restrictive abortion laws. But, he knows there’s a new make up of justices who will likely make different decisions from the previous court.
“This court is going to see its rightful role in interpreting state law and won’t just be following earlier, judge-made decisions,” Stemberger said.