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Grosshans appointed to the Supreme Court

Senior Editor News in Photos

Gov. DeSantis recommends Judge Francis for the federal bench

Judge Jamie R. GrosshansFifth District Court of Appeal Judge Jamie Grosshans has been named to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis, replacing the unsuccessful nomination of 15th Circuit Judge Renatha Francis. DeSantis also said at a September 14 press conference that he had called President Donald Trump and asked him to consider Francis for a federal district judgeship.

DeSantis made the announcement and introduced of Grosshans at 5 p.m., ending an uncertain day after the Supreme Court had ordered the governor on September 11 to select a replacement for Francis by noon on the 14th. The court took that action after agreeing with a challenge from Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windemere, that Francis was ineligible for the Supreme Court because she had not been a Bar member for 10 years, as required by the Florida Constitution.

DeSantis said both Francis and Grosshans serve as inspirations, Francis for immigrants and first-generation Americans and also, like Grosshans, for working mothers.

“Just like Judge Francis, she’s a working mom. She’s got three kids, ages 11, 9 and 4, she has a great breadth of experience in her own private practice and she’s also served as both a trial judge and currently now as an appeals court judges,” DeSantis said of Grosshans. “She understands the proper role of the court is to apply the law as it’s written, apply the Constitution as it’s written, not to legislate from the bench. I think she will bring that commitment to the Florida Supreme Court.”

Grosshans thanked her family, friends, and colleagues for helping and supporting her career.

Noting that this is the 100th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote and that she will become the fifth woman to join the Florida Supreme Court, she said, “I stand on the shoulders of champions, who have fought for equality and the right of women to lend their voices to the leadership of this great state.”

Grosshans said, quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, that she sees “the courts’ role is faithfully interpreting the Constitution and the laws passed by the legislative branches.’ He went on to quote Chief Justice [John] Marshall, ‘Judicial power is never exercised for the purpose of giving effect to the will of the judge, always for the purpose of giving effect to the will of the Legislature, or in other words the will of the law….’

“You can trust that I will bring a fidelity to the law and an unyielding respect for the separation of powers to my service on the court.”

Grosshans, 41, has served on the Fifth DCA since 2018, and before that was appointed as an Orange County judge in 2017. Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to both posts. She has been a Bar member since 2006 and graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

She served as an assistant state attorney in the Ninth Circuit State Attorney’s Office and then ran her own private practice handing criminal and family law matters for 10 years. She also served as guardian ad litem in domestic and dependency cases.

Grosshans is a member of the Orange County Bar Association, the Orlando Christian Legal Society, the Central Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and the George C. Young Inns of Court. She is also a member of the Bar’s Pro Bono Legal Services Committee.

DeSantis began the press conference by praising Francis, who like Grosshans, was there with her family. He noted that after the court had ruled against her appointment on September 11, Francis withdrew her nomination.

Judge Renatha FrancisLater that day, “I picked up the phone and I called the president of the United States and I told the president what had happened. I told him we have a great judge down here in Florida who was going to be on the Supreme Court and while that didn’t work out, I think she would make a great federal judge in the Southern District of Florida,” DeSantis said. “The president was very receptive to that. All I can say is that is actively under consideration. She has my full support to be a federal judge here in the state of Florida and hopefully we’ll get some news on that at some point in the very near future.”

Francis thanked DeSantis for her original nomination and support.

She added, “To the president of the United States, I would like to say this: Were I to be nominated for this position and go through a successful confirmation, I can promise you that I will faithfully adhere to the text of the Constitution, that I will faithfully apply the laws of this country to the facts before me. I promise to be fair and I believe I already have that reputation as a trial court judge and I want to continue that.”

The 5 p.m. press conference ended some uncertainly about DeSantis choice to replace Francis. In its September 11 order, the court had ordered DeSantis to act by noon on September 14, but the court did not issue a writ of mandamus saying it believed the governor would act without that.

At 10:28 a.m., DeSantis tweeted that, “Today, I’ll be making an announcement about Judge Renatha Francis and the future of the Florida Supreme Court. Stay tuned.”

But just before 3 p.m. when there was no further action, the court issued the mandamus writ, saying, “Trusting that the Governor would fully comply with the [September 11] order, and consistent with our traditional practice, the Court withheld issuance of the writ of mandamus. The deadline has now passed. It appearing that the Governor has yet to comply, we hereby issue the writ of mandamus and order the Governor immediately to comply with the Court’s order of September 11 and to certify his compliance to the Court by 5:00 p.m. today.”

DeSantis filed a reply at 4:47 p.m. saying his appointment would be announced at 5 p.m. and he would then file notice with the court.

Grosshans’s appointment ended a process that began almost 10 months ago when then Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who had been appointed earlier that year by DeSantis, left the court to join the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

That triggered a search by the Supreme Court JNC to nominate replacements. On January 23, the JNC sent to DeSantis a list of nine names to consider for the two seats.

The Constitution gives the governor 60 days to make an appointment from the list, but citing the demands of the COVID-19 crisis, DeSantis waited until May 26 to select now-Justice John Couriel and Francis, although it was acknowledged that Francis could not take up her new duties until at least September 24, which is her 10-year anniversary of joining The Florida Bar. The Constitution requires that Supreme Court justices and appellate judges be Bar members for 10 years when they take office.

On July 13, Rep. Thompson filed a petition for writs of quo warranto and mandamus against DeSantis and the JNC, arguing Francis should not have been considered or appointed because of the Constitution’s 10-year-Bar-membership requirement. She also said DeSantis should have made the appointment by March 23.

After further briefing from DeSantis, the JNC, and Thompson, the court on August 27 dismissed the claim against the JNC, saying Thompson waited too long to challenge its action (Justice Jorge Labarga in a concurring opinion said the JNC should not have considered Francis). The court agreed that DeSantis exceeded his authority in appointing Francis, but it dismissed Thompson’s petition, saying she sought the wrong remedy.

Thompson had asked the court to order the JNC to reconsider all the original applicants for the two vacancies and to submit another list with diverse applicants to DeSantis. The court said the only legal remedy was to instruct DeSantis to select a replacement from the remaining seven people on the first list, none of whom are African American.

Thompson then asked for a rehearing or for the court to allow her to amend her petition to include the remedy it specified. DeSantis filed a response opposing those actions.

On September 8, the court denied the rehearing but authorized Thompson’s amended petition. It directed DeSantis to show cause by the next day why the justices should not order him to select a replacement for Francis from the remaining seven names.

DeSantis held a press conference on September 9 that included Francis and statements from several South Florida Black elected officials as well as former Bar President Eugene Pettis supporting Francis’s appointment.

Later that day in his reply to the show cause order, DeSantis said it would take weeks for him to review again the other seven finalists by which time Francis would qualify and since the amended petition did not name the JNC as a party, its list of finalists — which included Francis — would have to remain intact. He also repeated the argument from his original reply that the Francis appointment would not be final until he issued her commission on or after September 24.

Thompson’s response rejected those arguments, noting the court in its August 27 opinion said the Constitution clearly required that Francis meet the 10-year requirement when DeSantis named her for the post.

The court, in its final order on September 11, agreed.

“The essentials of this case are straightforward. The resignation of former Justice Robert Luck created a vacancy in office; the constitution gave the Governor sixty days from January 23, 2020, to fill the vacancy by making an appointment from a list of certified nominees; and, at the time of the appointment, the appointee necessarily needed to be constitutionally eligible for the office being filled,” the court order said. “Not having been a member of the Florida Bar for ten years, Judge Renatha Francis was constitutionally ineligible for the office of justice of the supreme court on the expiration of the constitution’s sixty-day deadline. And Judge Francis remains constitutionally ineligible now.”

The Constitution required an appointment within 60 days of getting the list of nominees on January 23, “Yet the Governor has not satisfied his legal obligation to fill the vacancy by making a constitutionally valid appointment. This is true if one views the Governor as having made a null appointment on May 26 (because Judge Francis was and is constitutionally ineligible). It is also true if, as the Governor belatedly suggests in his response to the amended petition, the May 26 ‘appointment’ was a mere ‘announcement’ and not an appointment at all. Either approach leads to the same conclusion: the Governor has not complied with the constitution’s clear commands.”

The court called the Constitution’s 10-year Bar membership requirement and 60-day appointment deadline “bright-line” mandates, adding, “To some, enforcing rules like these might seem needlessly formalistic when the result is to preclude the appointment of an otherwise qualified candidate. But ‘formalism,’ as [late U.S. Supreme Court] Justice [Antonin] Scalia observed, ‘is what makes a government a government of laws and not of men.’”

The court also specifically rejected DeSantis’s contention it would take weeks to vet again the finalists and that Francis would still be on the finalist’s list.

“In these circumstances, the constitution and directly on-point precedent dictate the remedy. We hold that the constitution requires the Governor immediately to appoint and commission a constitutionally eligible nominee from among the seven remaining candidates already certified by the judicial nominating commission. See Pleus v. Crist, 14 So. 3d 941 (Fla. 2009),” the order said. “We reject the Governor’s suggestion that this remedy somehow intrudes on the judicial nominating commission’s constitutional prerogatives by ‘taking a red pen’ to the JNC’s certified list. The JNC itself made the decision to nominate a constitutionally ineligible candidate, and it is responsible for the consequences of that decision.”

The actions means the Florida Supreme Court will continue without a Black justice, as Francis, a Jamaican native, was the only African American on the finalist list.

Supporters at the September 9 press conference said it was important for the court to have diversity and different perspectives.

But Thompson, who is Black, said it was more important for the nominee to meet the Constitution’s requirements, and she repeated earlier criticisms as the failure of the JNC to include on the finalists list other experienced Black lawyers and judges who far exceeded the 10-year Bar membership requirement.

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