Florida Supreme Court rules new governor has authority to appoint justices

Lee Herald Favicon 16The Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that the new governor will be the one who gets to fill three scheduled vacancies on the state’s high court, ending a long-running dispute.

In a decision Monday, the court said that as long as the three retiring justices do not leave their positions early and as long as the new governor is sworn in and takes office immediately at the beginning of his term, that governor will have the authority to make the appointments.

“The governor who is elected in the November 2018 general election has the sole authority to fill the vacancies that will be created by the mandatory retirement of Justices Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince, provided the justices do not leave prior to the expiration of their terms at midnight between January 7 and January 8, 2019, and provided that the governor takes office immediately upon the beginning of his term,” Monday’s order said.

Gov. Rick Scott, who leaves office in January, has maintained that the current governor has the power to appoint the justices on his last day in office, as his term ends at the same moment that the three justices are forced into retirement by state law.

Justices are required to retire at age 70, or at the end of their term if they turn 70 more than halfway through their six-year term.

Scott had told the Judicial Nominating Commission last month to begin reviewing candidates, and to submit nominees by November 10, and in September said he would pick justices in consult with the governor-elect.

Now the replacements of Pariente, Lewis, and Quince will be chosen by the winner of November’s election between Republican Congressman Ron DeSantis and the Democratic Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum.

Florida’s Supreme Court is currently considered to have a 4-3 liberal majority, and the three retiring justices make up the bulk of that liberal wing. A win for Gillum could mean keeping a similar court composition, while a DeSantis victory could lead to a more conservative court.

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