Six-and-a-half years ago, the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission nominated me to fill a vacancy on the Florida Supreme Court. At the time, I was a lawyer practicing at a medium-sized Miami firm. I had never been a judge. I was the only Hispanic nominated and, if appointed, would be the first justice of Hispanic descent on the court.
The St. Petersburg Times promptly wrote an editorial painting me as a right-wing ideologue. The Times used my representation of an alleged (but twice-acquitted) terrorist to claim that I was "apparent(ly) indifferent to violence that is anti-Castro in motive." The newspaper also used a letter I had written to the Miami Herald editor years earlier, to insinuate that I would grant leniency to some murderers but not others. My letter had condemned the then-recent murders of two abortion doctors. However, I explained that the vast majority of those in the antiabortion movement were decent people from all walks of life who shared a belief that abortions kill children. The Times used that letter to question whether I would affirm the death penalty for the murder of abortion providers.
Of course, the Times' accusations were not well-founded, as subsequent events proved. I will not dwell on my record as a justice. Suffice it to quote one of my colleagues, speaking at my retirement ceremony in September: "His votes on this court have never, ever reflected an agenda either personal or political" and "Justice Cantero is the essence of what we mean by judicial independence."
Now, years later, I feel a sense of deja vu. The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission has nominated five candidates to fill another vacancy on the court. The Times' editorial board on Friday again singled out one of the candidates for vilification — Frank Jimenez, another conservative Hispanic. The Times condemns his nomination despite Jimenez's sterling credentials: distinguished Yale Law School and Wharton Business School graduate, partner at a well-respected Miami law firm, deputy chief of staff and acting general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, chief of staff to then-HUD Secretary Mel Martinez, top litigation counsel at the U.S. Defense Department, and now general counsel of the Navy, one of six civilians of four-star rank who help the secretary of the Navy oversee the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Jimenez's nomination is supported by many lawyers and judges, both on the right and the left. For example, Harold Koh, the internationally respected dean of Yale Law School and self-described critic of the Bush administration, draws from his 20 years of association with Jimenez to call him "utterly fair-minded and reasonable" and to state that, "as a human rights lawyer, I wish that every judge I appeared before had half his insight, awareness, or commitment to fairness." Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, a hero to those opposing Guantanamo detainee policies, said he "could not have asked for a better lawyer, colleague, deputy or successor" and that Jimenez's selection would provide the court "a justice of rare ability."
The federal appellate judge for whom Jimenez clerked described him as having "the perfect temperament for a judge on a collegial court," "congenial and personable," "thoughtful, balanced and deliberate," and as having "rock-solid personal and professional integrity." These letters, and many more, came from colleagues who know Jimenez intimately.
From the Times' editorial, however, one would never guess that Jimenez possesses such traits. Instead, the Times describes Jimenez as "a (Jeb) Bush acolyte" who is contemptuous "of an independent judiciary," and claims that "(a) Jimenez appointment would make a mockery of the state's judicial nomination process."
I do not quarrel with the Times' conclusion that the other candidates nominated are highly qualified. They are. Any one of them would make an excellent justice of the Florida Supreme Court. But once again the Times has cast unfair aspersions at a conservative Hispanic nominee. And if the governor decides to appoint Frank Jimenez to the court, I am confident that, once again, the Times will be proven wrong.
Raoul G. Cantero III served on the Florida Supreme Court from 2002 until 2008.