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If Kavanaugh falters, could it open the door for this Florida justice?

Chief Justice Charles Canady of the Florida Supreme Court has been mentioned before as a possibility.
Chief Justice Charles Canady [Florida Supreme Court]
Chief Justice Charles Canady [Florida Supreme Court]
Published Sep. 25, 2018|Updated Sep. 25, 2018

If Judge Brett Kavanaugh can't save his chance for an appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court because of sexual misconduct allegations, President Donald J. Trump would be forced to start the search anew.

One place Trump might look is at the Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee.

Trump's original list of possible Supreme Court nominees included Charles Canady, 64, the chief justice of the state's highest court and one of its most conservative members. The list first surfaced in the weeks after Trump was elected in 2016.

A personable man with circular, rimless glasses, Canady speaks with a soft, rural accent that reflects his roots in what long-timers still call "Imperial Polk County."

A native of Lakeland, Canady is, like Kavanaugh, a graduate of Yale Law School who grew up in a Democratic political family. His father, Charles Canady Sr., was for nearly two decades a top adviser to then-U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles, the last Democratic governor of Florida.

The younger Canady, first elected to the state House as a Democrat in 1984, switched parties in 1989 and was elected to Congress in 1992 — the year Floridians put legislative term limits in the state Constitution. His Polk County seat was later occupied by Adam Putnam, the commissioner of agriculture who lost the GOP primary for governor. (The current occupant, Republican Dennis Ross, is retiring from Congress).

While in a Republican-controlled Congress, Canady was a member of the House Judiciary Committee and helped manage impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton.

In a speech to the Miami Lawyers Division of the Federalist Society in 1999 — parts of which are online — Canady said: "By its action in this case, the House of Representatives established that the President who violates his constitutional duty and oath of office by committing crimes against the system of justice will be called to account for his misconduct."

And that, Canady said, "can only serve to strengthen the institution of the presidency and the system of justice."

Canady later became Gov. Jeb Bush's general counsel, and Bush appointed Canady to the appellate court bench. Gov. Charlie Crist elevated him to the Florida Supreme Court in 2008 where he's in his second "tour of duty," as he calls it, as chief justice of the seven-member court.

A notable Canady ruling is his dissent in the precedent-setting case of Hurst v. Florida in 2016, a 5-2 vote that requires that a jury's recommendation of a death sentence must be unanimous.

Canady, a supporter of the death penalty, wrote that the decision would disrupt administration of capital punishment in Florida.

Canady also broke from the majority in another 5-2 split in which the Legislature's redrawing of congressional districts was struck down as an illegal gerrymander in 2015. Canady said the majority decision violated the separation of powers and criticized his colleagues for a "repeated rewriting of the rules."

Canady's court is about to undergo tremendous change, or what he called a "watershed" moment as three senior justices, all of them more liberal than Canady, must resign in January due to a mandated retirement age. They are Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

A fierce legal and political fight is underway over who will appoint their replacements — outgoing Gov. Rick Scott or his successor, Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum.

"Occasionally, we disagree," Canady said of the three retiring justices in a speech Monday in Tallahassee as his audience chuckled. "But I have never doubted how much my colleagues love the court and love the law … They have always sought to improve the system."

Canady spoke at the Capitol at the annual Florida Bar Workshop, a two-day boot camp for reporters to better understand the workings of the state court system.

"As we reflect on the departure of our colleagues, it causes all of us on the court to know for all of us the day will come not too far down the road … when all of us will be moving on and doing something different," Canady said. "And so it does bring home to all of us what a special privilege it is to have the opportunity to serve the people of Florida as a member of the Supreme Court of Florida."

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