The Democratic leader in Florida’s Senate is calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to reconsider his pick to lead an obscure but powerful group of judges after former jurists said the nominee wasn’t qualified.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said DeSantis should reopen the search for a new chief judge for the Division of Administrative Hearings, which function as a check on state agencies.
“The qualifications for overseeing the judicial checks on state agencies and boards should amount to more than just a right-wing club membership,” Gibson said in a statement.
DeSantis’ pick for the job is John MacIver, a lawyer in his office who has been an attorney for just seven years and has virtually no courtroom experience.
DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis on Tuesday chose MacIver to be their nominee, with Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried the lone vote against him. Fried called both MacIver and another nominee unqualified for the job.
Former judges told the Times/Herald afterward that they agreed.
“He does not appear to have anywhere near the qualifications to hold that position,” former administrative judge Michael Parrish said. “He has strong opinions that have no basis in fact or reason."
The Senate still has to confirm MacIver.
The previous chief judge, Bob Cohen, had 21 years of experience when he was chosen by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003. DeSantis’ top lawyer asked Cohen to resign this year, and DeSantis nominated MacIver to replace him.
But while MacIver, 45, doesn’t have much courtroom experience, he shares DeSantis’ conservative viewpoint on the judiciary.
A member of the Federalist Society, which Republicans have used to fill benches across the country, MacIver told the Cabinet Tuesday that he wanted to change the culture within the division by appointing judges who “respect the rule of law.”
He also talked about stripping away powers the judges have held since the division was created in 1974.
With MacIver, DeSantis would also have his own man in a critical role overseeing the judges who are supposed to provide a neutral court for members of the public who challenge DeSantis’ own agencies.
When a member of the public wants to challenge state government and state boards, they appeal to judges at the Division of Administrative Hearings. The division’s 29 judges decide challenges to everything from hairdressers’ licenses to whether nuclear power plants should be built.
“With millions of dollars in state contracts and the smooth operation of state agencies at stake, the top judge at [the division] should offer more than just a membership card and scant legal experience,” Gibson said in a statement. “The governor should reopen the search.”