This Florida Supreme Court justice is up for retention. So who is he?

Carlos Muniz, appointed to the Florida Supreme Court last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is on the November ballot for a merit-retention vote.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muniz stands at the podium as Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on.
Florida Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muniz stands at the podium as Gov. Ron DeSantis looks on. [ News Service of Florida ]
Published Oct. 12, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — As the November elections near, a fierce political battle will play out in Washington, D.C., about the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But in Florida, a vote on state Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muniz is drawing little attention.

Muniz, appointed to the Florida Supreme Court last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis, is on the November ballot for a merit-retention vote. That means --- at least in theory --- that Floridians could vote him out of office.

But don’t count on it.

Under the state’s merit-retention system, Florida Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor and then go on the ballot for up-or-down votes about whether they should keep their jobs for six-year-terms. That is unlike U.S. Supreme Court justices, who receive lifetime appointments if they are confirmed by the U.S. Senate --- the political battle playing out now after President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

No Florida Supreme Court justice, however, has lost a merit-retention election, and Muniz’s bid has not drawn any visible opposition.

The last time a merit-retention fight occurred was in 2012, when some conservatives targeted Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who were part of a left-leaning majority on the court. But each of the justices received support from more than 67 percent of the voters and remained on the court until last year, when they faced a mandatory retirement age.

Probably the highest-profile merit retention election occurred in 1990, when Justice Leander Shaw was targeted because of a major opinion he wrote in 1989 backing abortion rights. Nevertheless, Shaw received support from 59.6 of the voters and remained on the court until retiring in 2003.

Muniz, a Yale Law School graduate whose background included serving as chief of staff to former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and as deputy general counsel to former Gov. Jeb Bush, was appointed to the Supreme Court by DeSantis in January 2019. He has helped form a conservative majority on the court after the departures of Pariente, Lewis and Quince.

Muniz drew some national attention last month when he was included on a list of 20 names that Trump put forward as potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees. The list was released before Ginsburg’s death, with Trump then quickly nominating Barrett, a federal appeals-court judge.

Relatively soft-spoken on the bench, Muniz caused a stir in August when he wrote an opinion that said DeSantis overstepped his constitutional authority in appointing Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Renatha Francis to the Supreme Court. The decision ultimately led to DeSantis appointing Justice Jamie Grosshans in place of Francis, who did not meet a legal requirement of being a member of The Florida Bar for 10 years.

Muniz is the only Supreme Court justice on the Nov. 3 ballot, but 23 judges on state appeals courts also face merit-retention votes. That includes six judges on the 1st District Court of Appeal; four judges on the 2nd District Court of Appeal; five judges on the 3rd District Court of Appeal; three judges on the 4th District Court of Appeal; and five judges on the 5th District Court of Appeal.

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