The Florida Supreme Court has tossed out a lawsuit over whether Gov. Rick Scott or his successor has the authority to appoint the next three justices to the court saying the issue is not yet “ripe for consideration.”
Three members of the current court — Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis — are scheduled to leave office on Scott’s last day as governor in January of 2019. They must resign because of mandatory retirement requirements in law that pertain to age.
Scott has claimed he has the authority to choose their successors since their last day on the bench will be his last day as governor.
The League of Women Voters and Common Cause had filed a challenge with the court arguing the duty of choosing the next justices is the responsibility of whomever replaces Scott.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga joined the three conservative members on the court, Justice Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson in the ruling:
“Although Governor Scott announced his intent to appoint the replacements for three justices of this Court, clearly no appointments have been made,” the justices wrote in a concurring opinion. “Until some action is taken by the Governor, the matter the League seeks to have resolved is not ripe, and this Court lacks jurisdiction to determine whether quo warranto relief is warranted.”
Quince and Pariente agreed with the majority but argued the court did not have to wait for Scott to make his appointments in order to act. In her own opinion, in which Pariene concurred, Quince wrote that “while I agree with the majority that it is not appropriate for us to rule on the petition at this time, I do not agree that it would only become appropriate to do so after Governor Scott has consummated an appointment.”
Lewis was the lone dissenter.
“I fundamentally disagree with depriving the citizens of Florida of their ability to challenge inappropriate action by a state official simply based on this unfounded limitation,″ Lewis wrote. “Today’s decision allows state officials, such as Governor Scott, to circumvent this extraordinary writ at the convenience of the office holder based on a ripeness challenge that does not, in my view, have any legal justification.”
Gov. Scott applauded Thursday’s decision.
“I am pleased that the Court upheld Florida law today and dismissed the challenge brought by these political organizations,” Scott said. “As long as I am Governor, I will continue to use my authority to appoint qualified judges.”
As issue is the political future of the court. Pariente, Quince and Lewis represent 3 of the 4 justices who makeup the more liberal arm of the bench. The person who chooses their successors will play a key role in deciding the makeup of the court for possibly decades to come.