1. Opinion

Editorial: The Florida Supreme Court should include an African American

Caption: SCOTT KEELER | TIMES People file into the Florida Supreme Court in 2015 in Tallahassee.
Published Dec. 3, 2018

Florida's highest court should reflect the people it serves. That's why the list of nominees to the Florida Supreme Court is stunning for its lack of diversity. For the first time in 36 years, the court will not have an African-American member when three new justices join the court next year unless something changes fast. This is an injustice that reflects poorly on the state, and Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis should correct it.

DeSantis will select the new justices from a list of 11 nominees submitted by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. None of the nine judges and two lawyers on the list the panel submitted last month is black, although six of the original 59 applicants were African-Americans. When Justice Peggy Quince's term ends Jan. 8, it will mark the first time since the late Justice Leander Shaw joined the court in 1983 that the Supreme Court will not have a black justice. DeSantis should ask the commission to reconvene and provide additional choices so he can make appointments that better reflect Florida's diversity on the highest court in America's third-largest state.

This isn't about quotas. It's about ensuring fair representation and opportunity across the board. DeSantis will select three justices to fill vacancies left by Quince and Justices Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis, who are retiring because of the mandatory retirement age of 70. With Florida becoming younger and more diverse, the nominating commission had ample opportunity to reflect the changes taking place in a state with more than 3.5 million African-American residents. But none of the six black applicants for the vacancies made the commission's list, drawing sharp criticism especially from black political leaders and civil rights activists.

The governor doesn't have the legal authority to reject the commission's entire list of nominees, but there is a window for DeSantis to ask for additional names. The JNC may give the governor up to six candidates for each vacancy, or 18 nominees in this case. That's seven more than what the commission has offered. While the JNC is not obligated to reconvene or to include more names, a larger list would broaden the talent pool and create an opportunity to make the court more diverse.

This may be DeSantis' problem, but it was created by Gov. Rick Scott. Since he took office in January 2011, Scott has not appointed a single black judge to a state appellate court, according to a brief filed by a Broward County-based association that advocates on behalf of black lawyers in a pending case challenging the appointment process. The governor also appoints all members of the judicial nominating commissions that develop the appointment lists for state appellate and trial courts. The governor's philosophy shapes not only who sits on these nominating panels but who applies for judicial appointments. Attorneys who don't share the governor's political views or social circle have no practical reason to bother.

Scott has appointed black trial judges during his two terms in office, but the appellate courts are different. Those filling vacancies on the Supreme Court and lower appellate courts could serve a generation or longer, ruling on core constitutional issues from privacy and free speech to education and civil rights. Floridians have a right to see in the courts a reflection of themselves.

DeSantis has an opportunity to immediately demonstrate he will be a governor who serves all Floridians, regardless of race or political party. He should ask the nominating commission to add more names to its list of Supreme Court nominees to give him the opportunity to appoint an African American to the court.


  1. editorial cartoon from times wires Andy Marlette -- Pensacola News Journal
  2. Governor Ron DeSantis. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times] "OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s paper.
  3. Chris Corr is the president of Raydient Places & Properties, Rayonier, and the chair of the Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan group of business and civic leaders. Tim Nickens
    The Council of 100 focuses on new strategies to recruit and retain the best teachers. | Column
  4. Oil can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, as a large plume of smoke rises from fires on BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig in April 2010.  [Associated Press]
    The House has voted to permanently ban oil drilling off the Gulf Coast. Now the Senate should approve it.
  5. Oscar-winning pop star Sam Smith, who is non-binary, announced Friday that they now use "they/them" as their third-person pronouns. On social media, they said that "after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am ..." JOEL C RYAN  |  Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP
    The singer now uses they/them pronouns. It shouldn’t be hard for reporters to recognize — and explain — gender non-binary terms. | Ashley Dye
  6. After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    After more than 18 years as a Times columnist, Ernest Hooper starts a new chapter as assistant sports editor.
  7. Firemen and ambulance attendants remove a body from the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, where an explosion ripped the structure during services Sept.15,1963 . Associated Press
    Fifty-six years ago, a bomb blew apart the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and injuring dozens more.
  8. In their political afterlife, former politicians and their staffers are hoarding unspent campaign donations for years and using them to finance their lifestyles, advance new careers and pay family members, an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times, 10News WTSP and TEGNA-owned TV stations found. CHRISTOPHER O'DONNELL  |  Steve Madden
    Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Kathy Castor are still pushing the House to take up the reform legislation. It’s past time.
  9. Yesterday• Letters to the Editor
    High tide from offshore hurricane Michael creeps up into the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs Wednesday afternoon after the Anclote River backs up. Jim Damaske
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s paper.
  10. Activist Greta Thunberg, foreground, participates in a climate protest, in central Stockholm Sweden. PONTUS LUNDAHL  |  AP
    Here’s some interesting commentary from the opposite poles of the political spectrum.