TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist appointed appellate Judge Ricky L. Polston to the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday, leaving the state's highest court with just one minority and roughly the same philosophical split.
Polston, 52, is Crist's second appointment in as many months, replacing the court's two most conservative members, who stepped down for personal reasons and were appointed by Jeb Bush when he was governor.
Polston replaces Justice Kenneth Bell, 52, whose last day was Wednesday. Crist's first appointment was Judge Charles Canady who replaced Justice Raoul Cantero, 47, who is of Cuban dissent and left the bench Sept. 6.
The bench's makeup is now five white men, a white woman and one black woman, Chief Justice Peggy Quince.
Crist will have two more choices — four of seven appointments — when more justices must retire next year. Both Canady and Polston are white, registered Republicans and have pushed conservative issues at some point in their careers.
Canady, as a Lakeland congressman, led the impeachment of President Bill Clinton and crafted federal antiabortion legislation.
As a lawyer, Polston defended a state highway agency in lawsuits challenging the state's antiabortion "Choose Life" license plates, a move that Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates decried Wednesday.
Although Polston has presided over thousands of cases, his most high-profile ones show a conservative side. He disagreed with colleagues on the 1st District Court of Appeals who declared Jeb Bush's voucher program unconstitutional. He also agreed with colleagues that NAACP lacked standing to challenge the ending of affirmative action in university admissions, a ruling the state Supreme Court overturned in 4-3 decision.
However, Polston agreed with the Florida American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Caucus of Black State Legislators in 2004 that the Corrections Department must give ex-offenders the paperwork — and even help them upon request — in the process of restoring their civil rights.
"Where would I position him on the spectrum of conservative, liberal, ideological? I think it's a great compliment to any judge to say: I just don't know," said Tallahassee lawyer Barry Richard, a registered Democrat who defended George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election recount. "He looks at every case for its intrinsic value and that's the best kind of a judge."
Polston was born in Dothan, Ala., but grew up in Graceville on a farm that grew peanuts and watermelons, he said. Married for 31 years to Deborah Ehler Polston, a children's book author, and his wife have four biological daughters and six sons adopted from state foster care.
Polston earned his bachelor's and law degree from Florida State University. He has been a certified public accountant for 30 years. Jeb Bush appointed him to the 1st District Court of Appeals in 2001. He teaches at FSU law school and is an elder at Christian Heritage Church, his application said.
Crist has expressed concern about the lack of diversity among finalists the Judicial Nominating Commission submitted for the two vacancies. He said he planned to be more "active" in ensuring women and minorities are finalists for his last two appointments.
"I have two more appointments to make in the next few months, and I would encourage women and minorities to apply," he said. " I hope that the nominating commissions present names that include minorities because I'm anxious to do it."