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GOP now controls Florida court sending cases to U.S. Supreme Court

“Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” said one law professor.

Two Miami-born Florida Supreme Court justices were confirmed to lifetime appointments on the country’s second-highest federal court this week, giving Republican-appointed judges a majority on the Florida federal court that sends cases to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Robert Luck, a 40-year-old South Miami native, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on a 64 to 31 vote for an appointment on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Tuesday, which includes Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The court hears appeals from district courts within its borders, and appeals from the 11th Circuit are taken up by the Supreme Court.

Barbara Lagoa, a 52-year-old Hialeah native who was the first Cuban-American woman on the Florida Supreme Court, was confirmed to the court on an 80 to 15 vote on Wednesday. Lagoa is the first Hispanic nominated by President Donald Trump to be confirmed for a U.S. Court of Appeals vacancy out of 48 judges.

“Trump’s already had five appointees to the court, it’s already a much more conservative court than before and it might be the second most conservative court in the country,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks federal court nominations.

Tobias said the appointments of Luck and Lagoa to the 11th Circuit mean that seven of the judges were appointed by Republican presidents and five were appointed by Democrats. Combined with Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida, Alabama and Georgia, Tobias said the court could be a testing ground for conservative policy on many different issues.

“It’s a place, for example, that has a lot of capital cases, criminal procedure, issues of voting rights, all the culture war issues like abortion,” Tobias said. “My guess is you would see very conservative opinions.”

Luck and Lagoa’s successful confirmations cap off a rapid ascent in 2019.

Less than a year ago, Luck and Lagoa were appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis after serving as judges in the Florida circuit court system. In September, Trump nominated the pair to replace two federal judges.

Neither Luck nor Lagoa have federal judicial experience but are well-respected among peers in the legal field. They are both members of the Federalist Society, a nationwide group of conservative lawyers that seeks to interpret the law as written and plays a large role in Republican court nominations.

Luck graduated from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law and before being appointed to the Florida Supreme Court served as a judge on the Third District Court of Appeal and the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, while also working as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Lagoa attended Florida International University and Columbia Law School before serving for nearly 13 years on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal prior to her Florida Supreme Court appointment. She also worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in South Florida and spent over a decade in private practice.

At their Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in October, Luck and Lagoa faced little to no pushback from committee members, a sign that their nominations were considered relatively uncontroversial, even among Democrats. Their nominations advanced out of committee two weeks ago and were quickly placed on the Senate calendar for a vote.

“Both of these nominees have excellent records of service and a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law,” Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott said during Luck and Lagoa’s confirmation hearing. “Our courts need judges who respect the separate roles of our three branches of government. We need judges who will apply and interpret the laws as written, and who will not legislate from the bench. I’m confident that Justices Lagoa and Luck will honorably and faithfully serve the 11th Circuit for many years to come.”

Eight of the nine current Supreme Court Justices served on a federal appeals court before being nominated to the nation’s highest court.

Luck and Lagoa’s confirmation is the latest effort by Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fill vacancies and reshape the federal courts with nominees who are favorably received by conservatives, many of whom are in their 40s or 50s and can serve on the bench for decades.

Luck becomes the 163rd judge nominated by Trump to be confirmed by the Senate, a total that includes Supreme Court justices Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The pace of confirmations under Trump is slightly higher than the rate of confirmed judges under former President Barack Obama, who saw 329 of his nominees confirmed during his eight years in office.

But Tobias said Trump’s pace of appointing U.S. Appeals Court judges is happening at a much higher rate.

“It’s a record-setting pace for any president at this point in their tenure,” Tobias said. “On issues that people from Florida care about they’re more likely to see more conservative decisions.”