Justice Meredith Sasso sworn in as a justice of the Florida Supreme Court
Described as a determined originalist, diligent worker, and devoted mother (and Gator fan), Meredith Sasso was ceremonially sworn into the Florida Supreme Court on January 19 on a late Friday afternoon.
Near the end of the ceremony, Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz commented: “After hearing all those speeches, I think you can see why our court loves the investitures so much and why we’re so excited to be working with you, Meredith. And also, why I feel so weak and soft in comparison.”
The packed Tallahassee courtroom full of Justice Sasso’s family, friends, and mentors laughed.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was not present gave a brief but proud welcoming to Sasso via a video played for the room.
“This spring when then-Judge Sasso came to my office to accept her letter of appointment, she brought along her two boys who could not have been prouder of their mom,” DeSantis said. “I’m sure her two boys and her husband, Michael, are just as proud of her today as they were then.”
When Sasso served on the Fifth and Sixth district courts of appeal, she “established a track record of sound jurisprudence rooted in originalism and textualism. She understands that the role of the judiciary is not to make policy or, as stated by Alexander Hamilton, to exercise neither force nor will but merely judgment,” said DeSantis, who had also appointed her to the new Sixth DCA last January.
The governor then added: “As Justice Sasso takes her seat on the bench, for the first time in Florida history, there will be three women sitting on the Florida Supreme Court.”
In addition to being the seventh woman of 93 justices who have served on Florida’s highest court, Sasso is also the fourth Hispanic justice to be appointed to it in the last five years.
Sasso had a long list of people to thank, including her parents who taught her the art of argument. But, perhaps most significantly, she thanked her nearly 102-year-old grandfather Roberto “Poppy Bear” Barrios, who fled Cuba in 1953 and who was widely credited that day for her work ethic and worldview.
“Poppy Bear, you gave me something money can’t buy,” Sasso said to Barrios. “You lit a fire in me that’s carried me through my life and my career.”
She thanked her husband, Michael, also an attorney, and “the sassiest of all the Sassos,” for supporting her even while her work has taken her from their home in Orlando to Tallahassee, and across Florida.
“I know the travel is not your favorite part either,” Sasso said to her husband. “But one of my favorite parts of this job is getting to go around the state. It does not matter what room I walk into, if I’m in Naples, or Melbourne, or Miami, or the House floor or the Senate offices, there is somebody who comes up to me, knows you, loves you, and gives me the benefit of the doubt because of you.”
Michael Sasso held his wife’s maternal grandfather’s Bible as she took the court’s oath.
To her two young boys, William and Adam, who led the pledge of allegiance that day: “Like many moms who work outside the home, I’m a bit self-conscious at times of our family’s decision for me to take a job that keeps me traveling. But when I look at this opportunity through your perspective, rather than myopically focusing on my time away from you, I start to see its potential for beauty.”
Sasso went on: “So my prayer for you is that you will look forward to the ‘boys’ nights’ while I’m away, that you will relish in the time Uncle Ian picks you up and you get to double fist ice cream cones. And that when you’re my age, you’ll look back and you’ll appreciate all the time you got to spend with your grandparents. And I hope you will come to value the fact that as you are right now you will be surrounded by great men, and I hope you look to them as examples and mentors.”
As Sixth District Court of Appeal Judge Mary Alice “Molly” Nardella pointed out in her remarks, Sasso was pregnant when she left her private practice in Orlando to work for then Gov. Rick Scott as his chief deputy general counsel in Tallahassee, which “turned her life upside down.”
And when Scott appointed Sasso to the Fifth DCA in 2019, she was again pregnant.
“She has never taken a traditional maternity leave, and no leave at all when she served on the Fifth District Court of Appeal,” said Nardella. “Think about that.”
Nardella credited Sasso’s grandfather for instilling in her a deep appreciation for the American system of government and a separation of powers that doesn’t exist in places like Cuba.
“The causal relationship between gratitude and seriousness was not intuitive to me. But as a mother, I’ve come to realize that if you’re truly grateful for something, you preserve it, and perfect it, even if the work required to do so is drudgery,” said Nardella. “In other words, if you’re truly grateful for something, you take it extremely seriously.”
In addition to Nardella, her husband, her children, her grandfather, the six other Florida Supreme Court justices, there was a lengthy list of people who came to cheer Sasso on in her investiture.
To name a few: Interim Dean Merritt McAlister of University of Florida Levin College of Law, from where Sasso graduated in 2008; DeSantis’ campaign manager and former chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and his general counsel Ryan Dean Newman; Florida Bar President Scott Westheimer and many members of the Bar’s Board of Governors; Sasso’s former colleagues from the Fifth and Sixth DCAs; her parents and in-laws; her sister, Lucy Bradley, who also led the invocation.
Sasso grew up in Tallahassee where she graduated from Leon High School. She earned both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. Prior to public service, she represented clients in large loss general liability, auto negligence, and complex commercial claims in state and federal courts at trial and on appeal. She has volunteered as a guardian ad litem representing abused and or neglected children. She is a member of the American Enterprise Institute Leadership Network and the Federalist Society. She’s previously been a member of the Bar’s Appellate Court Rules Committee.
After the hour-long ceremony, Sasso, the justices, and her guests headed across the street to the coffee and wine bar, La Florida, for a reception hosted by the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.