Peggy A. Quince was a student in Virginia's segregated schools when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the separate-but-equal state laws in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education. As another racial barrier is being broken in the presidential campaign, she is making history herself. Again.
On Friday, the daughter of a longshoreman became the first African-American woman to become chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Quince is just the second African-American and third woman to serve on the court, and she is familiar with blazing new trails. Some 15 years ago she became the first African-American woman appointed to a Florida district court of appeal.
Quince, 60, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 by Gov. Lawton Chiles and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush. Praised for her quick mind and engaging personality during a ceremony Friday, she takes the gavel at a time when the court is on the verge of remarkable turnover and faces considerable challenges. Two of the seven justices are resigning, and two more will reach mandatory retirement age during her two-year term. The chief justice also acts as the chief administrative officer of the judicial system, and Quince takes charge in an era when the Legislature has to be constantly prodded to adequately fund the judicial branch. The work of outgoing Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis, who will remain on the court, in pressing for social services and aid for the mentally ill also will have to continue.
Former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, now secretary of the Department of Children and Families, praised Quince for breaking through the dual glass ceilings of race and gender. "You bring to the center chair not only wisdom and integrity but a big heart,'' he said.
All of those qualities will come in handy as Quince breaks another barrier and increases her visibility as a role model for all Floridians.