By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — As Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to make a priority of reshaping the Florida Supreme Court, he will choose from among nine nominees to replace former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck.
The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominee Commission on Thursday released the list of nominees, after considering 32 applicants for the open seats. DeSantis will have up to 60 days to name replacements for Lagoa and Luck, who were tapped last year by President Donald Trump for positions on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The nine nominees include six state appellate judges, five women and one black candidate.
The diversity of the court has become a closely watched issue, as it has not had a woman justice since Lagoa went to the federal appeals court and has not had a black member since former Justice Peggy Quince retired last January.
The black nominee is Renatha Francis, a Palm Beach County circuit judge. The women nominees are Francis; Jamie Grosshans, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal; Norma Lindsey, a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal; Lori Rowe, a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal; and Meredith Sasso, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal.
The other nominees are:
— John Couriel, an attorney with the Miami firm Kobre & Kim.
— Jonathan Gerber, a judge on the 4th District Court of Appeal.
— Timothy Osterhaus, a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal.
— Eliot Pedrosa, a Miami-Dade County attorney who is United States executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank.
At least one of the new justices will have to be a resident of the 3rd Appellate District, which is made up of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. That is because each of the state’s five appellate districts must have a representative on the Supreme Court. Lagoa and Luck were from Miami-Dade County.
Three of the nine nominees — Couriel, Lindsey and Pedrosa — live in the 3rd Appellate District.
The judicial nominating commission, chaired by Tallahassee attorney Daniel Nordby, announced the names of the nominees after interviewing applicants over two days this month.
DeSantis appointed Lagoa, Luck and Carlos Muniz to the Supreme Court last January to replace Quince and fellow longtime justices Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis, who stepped down because they hit a mandatory retirement age.
Trump’s decision to pick Lagoa and Luck for the Atlanta-based federal appeals court created an unusual situation of needing to quickly fill the two Supreme Court seats again.
“Justices Lagoa and Luck set a high bar during their short time on the Florida Supreme Court,” Nordby said Thursday. “I have complete confidence in Governor DeSantis as he decides how best to fill their vacancies from this talented list of nominees.”
DeSantis has made revamping the Supreme Court one of his top priorities, after years of Republican state leaders expressing frustration at rulings by a generally liberal court. Quince, Pariente and Lewis were part of a liberal bloc, and their replacements immediately shifted the court to the right.
The governor has made clear that his upcoming picks to replace Lagoa and Luck will bolster what is now a conservative majority.
“In our system of government, courts play an important role, but it is a role that must remain judicial in nature; when courts exercise legislative authority, they pervert the Constitution and undermine the rule of law,” DeSantis said during his State of the State address last week.
But his picks for the two seats also will draw attention for whether the court becomes more diverse. Along with Francis and the other women nominees, three of the potential picks — Couriel, Pedrosa and Sasso — are of Cuban ancestry.
Francis, the only black finalist, is legally barred from serving on the Florida Supreme Court until Sept. 24, 2020, her 10th anniversary of being a member of the Florida Bar. (That’s one of the court’s rules.)