School Choice: a new court, expect different results

by | Jan 22, 2019

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday his third and final appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, naming Carlos Muñiz to the remaining vacancy on the state’s high court.

Muniz had  been serving as general counsel for U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVo, a strong advocate of school choice, an issue that the new court will likely find itself ruling on in the coming years.

He is no stranger to Tallahassee having 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.

“He really understands the proper role of the court. He has worked extensively in various aspects of Florida government,” DeSantis said of Muñiz, who has never served on any court.

DeSantis has been critical of previous justices who he says have used the legal system to practice judicial activism and legislate from the bench. He believes Muñiz’s previous experience in the executive and legislative branches will serve him well as a justice.

“The role of a judge is preserve the constitution, not to add to it or subtract from it,” Muñiz said. “I believe strongly  in judicial independence, but judges have to earn that independence through their fidelity to the constitution.”

I think he’s approaching it understanding the role of the legislative branch .. the governor’s role and the attorney general’s role, and I think that’s a very useful perspective to be able bring to the court,” DeSantis added. “Particularly, because one of the critiques I have  had of the court is that they have not understood their proper jurisdiction and that they have expanded it beyond where they should.”

The appointment of completes the transformation of the Florida Supreme Court into what is expected to be a much more conservative court. Along with DeSantis’ previous appointments of  Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, the selection of Muñiz fills the three vacancies on the court left by justices who gave the court a more liberal lean.

As reported by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune last week, Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, told a Sarasota business group that a more conservative court that will likely embolden lawmakers to push “some issues that in the past we probably wouldn’t have.”

Particularly, on issues relating to school choice and vouchers.

“You’ll probably see some more bold steps in education and revisiting some of the ideas that Gov. Bush brought to the table back in the day,” Galvano said. He says that could include proposals to expand school vouchers that were ruled unconstitutional in the  past.

On Monday, during a visit to Piney Grove Boys Academy in Lauderdale Lakes to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, DeSantis reaffirmed his commitment to school choice and expanding private school education for low-income families.

“I want people to reach their full potential,” DeSantis said Tuesday morning. “And I view, if you are using public dollars, whether its funding a public school district, or whether a parent is getting an account and then they apply it out based on what they think is best for their kid, to me it’s all public education.”

With a more conservative court that will likely be more friendly to issues such as school choice, DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Legislature have vowed to expand school choice in Florida.

Critics are promising a battle.

“From equal access to free quality public education to women’s ability to make personal decisions about their own bodies – Democrats will stand up to the Governor’s offensive to dismantle hard fought civil rights,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo. “Fortunately, we live in a country of law and Florida Democrats will take every step necessary to defend the rights of every Floridian.”

With conservatives holding control of the three branches of government in Tallahassee, Democrats might not have many steps available to stop the expansion of school choice in Florida.



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