TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday tapped for the Florida Supreme Court an appellate judge who led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and who crafted federal antiabortion legislation.
Charles T. Canady, 54, of Lakeland is the first of four appointments the Republican governor is expected to make to the seven-member court in the coming year due to resignations and mandatory retirements.
Considered a brilliant intellectual and constitutional expert, Canady has spent most of his career working for government, including the past five years on the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Crist's selection of Canady helps shore up social conservative support, which has waned with Crist's work expanding gambling at Indian casinos and restoring civil rights for nonviolent felons. His tepid support of a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage has also angered conservatives.
"Canady is about as doctrinaire right-wing Republican as you'll find, but he's outstanding in his intellectual ability," said lawyer W. Dexter Douglass, who advised former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles on Supreme Court selections. "I suppose the governor felt he had to recognize that wing of the party at some point, and he picked a good one to do it with."
Crist said he did not select Canady for his political ideology, although acknowledged some may see it that way.
"I was looking for a nominee with great integrity, great intellect and great compassion," Crist said in an interview. "He so impressed me in his interview. … He's a humble man, a very good listener."
Canady fills the at-large vacancy being left by Justice Raoul Cantero, 47, who will step down next week. Crist also is expected to announce by Oct. 13 his pick to replace resigning Justice Kenneth Bell, 52.
Bell and Cantero, appointed by previous Gov. Jeb Bush, are considered the high court's most consistent conservatives, as they often deferred to the executive and legislative branches. The two were the only dissenting votes in a high-profile ruling that struck down Bush's program that provided private school vouchers for students attending failing public schools.
In a press conference on the front lawn of the Governor's Mansion on Thursday, Crist twice invoked the word "humility" to describe Canady, who also used the word in his application to explain his view of the Supreme Court's role.
"Courts should proceed with a sense of humility, with an awareness of the inherent limitations of the judicial decisionmaking process, and with an attitude of respect for the determination of the legislative and executive branches," Canady wrote.
Standing beside his wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Julia, 9, and Anna, 7, Canady said he's "never been more grateful than I am today to have this opportunity to serve on the state's highest court," and that he would "strive to do the best I can for every Floridian."
The son of a politically connected Polk County family, Canady is a graduate of Haverford College and Yale Law School. Canady served in the Florida House for six years. He had been a Democrat, but switched parties in 1989. His father, Charles E. Canady, managed Lawton Chiles' 1970 U.S. Senate campaign and later worked for him.
In 1992, the younger Canady won election to Congress, where he led the charge for many conservative social causes. He's credited with developing the ideologically charged phrase "partial-birth abortion" and crafting the original legislation vetoed by Clinton that banned the procedure. President George W. Bush signed another version into law in 2003, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2007.
Canady also served as Gov. Jeb Bush's chief attorney for two years before Bush appointed him to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Sitting on that bench last year, Canady was among judges who affirmed a trial court's ruling rejecting a Catholic teenager's request to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents. The panel affirmed the lower court's denial, even as a dissenting colleague said the trial judge injected his religious beliefs in the proceeding by saying an abortion is "one of the biggest things of the Catholic faith regarding what they believe should never be done."
Florida Democrats attending their national convention in Denver reeled over the news of Crist's pick.
"It's just very disappointing that the governor chose someone associated so much with the right wing and most conservative ideologies instead of someone who is more mainstream," said state Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston.
Social conservatives hailed the decision. Over the past two weeks, the Florida Family Policy Council had asked its churchgoing members to e-mail Crist's office and lobby for Canady. Council president John Stemberger called the governor's choice outstanding, saying Crist "hit a home run with this appointment and is to be commended and praised."
Many marveled at the speed of Crist's decision. His office announced plans for the press conference less than six hours after Crist interviewed Canady and four other finalists.
"His broad-based political and legal experience and his consistent application of the law as a judge make him an excellent choice," said Chris Kise, a former chief attorney to Crist.
Canady said he planned to head straight over to the Supreme Court on Thursday to get up to speed on cases, which could include a Sept. 8 death penalty hearing. Cantero will continue to serve during the Wednesday arguments about whether three controversial measures will remain on the November ballot, Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters confirmed. The measures include a property tax swap and two measures aimed at reinstating Bush's school voucher program.
Canady also said that he plans to relocate his family to Tallahassee and will remain on the bench until mandatory retirement age, assuming voters retain him. Both Cantero and Bell cited their young families as reasons they were leaving.
Times staff writer Steve Bousquet and Times researcher Will Short Gorham contributed to this report.