In May, when Jamaican-born Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis was appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as the First Caribbean-American appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, there was much pride among the Jamaican-American community pertaining to her judicial elevation, and praise for DeSantis having giving recognition to Florida’s Caribbean community.
However, Judge Francis may not be able to take her seat on the state’s Supreme Court bench if a lawsuit challenging the governor’s appointment succeeds.
The lawsuit filed by Rep. Geraldine Thompson, Democrat of Windermere, claims Francis is ineligible to be appointed to the Court because she did not meet the required criteria when DeSantis appointed her.
According to Florida’s Constitution, to be appointed to the Supreme Court, a judge must have served 10 years as a member of the Florida Bar. Judge Francis has not yet completed her 10th year but will do so on September 24 this year, when she is scheduled to take her seat on the bench.
“The plain and unambiguous language of the Florida Constitution requires that an individual satisfy that requirement prior to being eligible for appointment,” claimed Thompson in the lawsuit, according to a report in the Tampa Times.
Should Francis prevail the lawsuit, she would become not only the first Jamaican to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, but the first Black justice since Peggy Quince retired early last year and would also be the only woman on the court.
The lawsuit also argues the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission “exceeded the limits of its authority” by including Francis’ name on a list of nine nominees sent to DeSantis in January.
According to the report, Thompson’s attorneys claimed in the lawsuit filed in the Florida Supreme Court that there were 32 initial applicants for the two Supreme Court posts. These included several Black or Caribbean-American applicants. All the applicants for the exception of Francis had been members of the Florida Bar for the requisite 10-year period when they applied.
The lawsuit also stipulated: “Under the Supreme Court’s rules, the nominating commission cannot recommend appointees to the governor unless the commission finds that the nominee meets all constitutional and statutory requirements to serve as a justice.
“There is nothing in the Florida Constitution or the JNC (judicial nominating commission) rules which provide the JNC with authority to nominate an individual for potential appointment to the Supreme Court where that individual may become eligible for that position on some future date.”
Furthermore, according to the lawsuit, The JNC “clearly lacked the authority to certify an individual for consideration where that individual could not meet the constitutional requirements to be a justice on the Florida Supreme Court until approximately six months after that mandatory 60-day time period expired.”
The petition asked the Supreme Court to issue what is known as a writ of quo warranto “concluding that the JNC exceeded its legal authority by including Judge Francis on the list of certified nominees.”
The lawsuit also asks the court to order the JNC “to immediately provide” DeSantis with a new list of nominees and asks that the JNC “strongly consider including for consideration the six fully qualified African-American candidates who applied for the vacancies in this case.”
This latter comment provoked criticism by some Caribbean-Americans in South Florida that Thompson’s lawsuit could be rooted in anti-Caribbean-American sentiment.
But as a rebuff to this criticism, Thompson’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit, that “It is deeply disturbing that there are currently no African-American, Caribbean-American, or female members on the Supreme Court. The petitioner believes that diversity is vital to the fair administration of justice, promotes a broader understanding of legal issues, and instills public confidence in the legal system.”
Moreover, while the lawsuit challenges Judge Francis’ constitutional requirement to serve on the Supreme Court it does not challenge her qualifications. The lawsuit claims she has the abilities and qualifications to be considered for appointment once she meets all Florida’s Constitutional requirements.