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A Times Editorial

For Supreme Court, demand diversity

Gov. Charlie Crist makes no appointment more important than that of a Supreme Court justice, and he has every right to demand a larger, more diverse pool of nominees.

The list of seven judges and one lawyer sent to him Thursday by the Judicial Nominating Commission is unnecessarily narrow. First, the number itself limits the governor's options. The commission is allowed to nominate up to six names for each of the two vacancies. But it chose only five to replace Raoul Cantero and three, the minimum, to replace Kenneth Bell. The effect is to give the commission more control and the governor less.

The list also contains no women and no African-Americans. Commission chairman Robert Hackleman defended the lack of diversity by pointing to a pool of 50 applicants with only eight women and two blacks. Fair enough. But how does the commission end up with eight men when one of every six applicants was a woman? Is he saying every male was better than every female? That two male justices must be replaced by two male justices?

The governor should also take care to separate legal qualifications from political ones. Only the former will serve the court well.

Charles Canady, for example, is an appellate judge nominated for Cantero's seat. But Canady got his judgeship from Gov. Jeb Bush, after serving as Bush's general counsel and defending school vouchers in court and after eight years as a highly partisan congressman who in 1999 helped run impeachment hearings against President Clinton. Similarly, Ricky Polston, nominated for Bell's seat, is an appellate judge appointed by Bush. It seems hardly coincidental that Polston was the lone dissenter in a three-judge panel ruling against Bush's vouchers. Polston's dissent ran 34 pages.

Asked to respond to the nomination list, Crist told reporters: "I've got several concerns about it, so I'm looking at what my options are." That's easy. He should insist on a more complete list of nominees.

Crist has promised to appoint competent people from all walks of life to state government and, with his administrative appointments, has largely delivered. With the Supreme Court, the stakes are even higher.

For Supreme Court, demand diversity 08/15/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:38am]
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