Luck and Muñiz take ceremonial oaths as Supreme Court justices
It was time for the “annual Robert Luck investiture,” as one speaker put it. And for the investiture of fellow Supreme Court Justice Carlos Muñiz with the theme, “He’s really not as boring as you think.”
It was with that mixture of humor and praise that Luck and Muñiz were ceremonially sworn in at a packed Supreme Court September 24 as the 88th and 89th justices in the court’s history. The two had privately taken their oaths when they joined the court in January, but U.S. 11th Circuit Court Chief Judge Ed Carnes, who hired Luck as a clerk right out of law school, underscored the importance of the replication before friends, colleagues, family, and an internet audience.
“The reason for doing it again in this public ceremony is the oath of office contains promises that the officeholder is making to the public. The promises that the oath contains are about how he will perform his duties of his office and about what he will support, protect, and defend while in office,” Carnes said. “The promises in the oath are not just to his families and high public officials, they are made to the public, to all citizens of the state. They are made to you.”
The “annual investiture” comment came from U.S. Southern District of Florida Judge Rodolfo Ruiz and was a reference to that in the past six years, Luck has been sworn in as an 11th judicial circuit judge, Third District Court of Appeal judge, Supreme Court justice, and has just been nominated by President Trump — along with Justice Barbara Lagoa who had her investiture ceremony a few weeks earlier — to the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Or as Carnes joshed when he rose to administer the oath to Luck, “In the last six years, he seems to have had some difficulty in holding down a job, but he has promised me — wait, that’s an earlier version of this speech.”
Ruiz said Luck is known for peppering his opinions with references to movies and pop songs, and for their clear language and incisive reasoning.
They have “clarity and simplicity, without losing meaning. Accessibility by way of thorough analysis. The proper application of precedent, scrutiny of text whether it be contract, statute, or constitutional provision, an abiding sense of judicial humility, and when necessary dissent before the compromise of first principles,” Ruiz said.
But it’s his personal qualities that impress his friends and colleagues the most, he said.
Ruiz recounted that after former Gov. Rick Scott appointed Luck to the 11th Judicial Circuit bench in 2013, he drew an opponent when he came up for election. Not only did he maintain a full trial court schedule and a heavy campaign schedule, he still showed up, dripping wet from a rainstorm, at the hospital with a gift teddy bear on the night Ruiz and his wife had their first child.
And he found time to support Judge Nushin Sayfie, administrative judge of the circuit’s criminal division, who was helping a sister struggling with cancer. Ruiz, quoting Sayfie, recounted, “We all agree that he is a brilliant judge, but we love him because he is such a loyal, reliable, and caring friend.”
Attorney Tim Cerio, a member of the Florida Board of Governors for the State University System and former law partner with Muñiz, said the justice can be hard to know because he is humble and reluctant to talk about himself.
He said Muñiz found his passion in public service work, having left a prominent Washington, D.C., law firm to become assistant general counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush. He then served as general counsel to former Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, held several key legislative staff leadership positions in the Florida House of Representatives, served as deputy attorney general and chief of staff for former Attorney General Pam Bondi, and finally served as general counsel, with U.S. Senate confirmation, for the U.S. Department of Education.
“All of this happened not because Carlos was well connected or because he was a good self-promoter — in fact I can say as his former law partner he is an atrocious self-promoter to his financial detriment,” Cerio said as the audience chuckled. “Our state and nation’s greatest leaders sought his advice because he was a superb lawyer who provided smart and exceedingly effective legal advice. . . .
“He has a keen intellect and an ability to really dissect and analyze a legal issue and arrive at a solution that is sometimes unique and always invaluable to clients. He always figured it out. He’s a gifted writer and he has a style that makes even the driest subject enjoyable.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis praised both jurists for their understanding of the separation of powers, the proper role of the judiciary, and the humility needed to be great judges.
“Justice Luck, it seems like to me, from the time he was a baby, people thought he would be a judge; he clearly has a passion for it,” DeSantis said. “I don’t think I’ve heard a single, negative comment about him for anything.”
“Justice Muñiz, the experience he’s had at different levels of government I think is very, very useful when you’re on a court of last resort because when you talk about understanding the separation of powers, you’re looking at somebody who does,” the governor said. “Probably, he had a better understanding of the Florida system of government than anybody I’ve interviewed.”
Muñiz, his voice frequently breaking with emotion, thanked his family, including wife, Katie, and children, Robert, William, and Lydia, and recounted how his father came to the U.S. from Nicaragua twice, once as a student and the second time fleeing a Marxist government in 1979. He also thanked those who had hired and trusted him for public service jobs, from former Gov. Bush to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Muñiz said his life changed when he read a Wall Street Journal Potomac Watch column in 1980 about how a congressman — Charles Canady — would honor a campaign pledge and retire after four terms, returning to become Gov. Bush’s general counsel. Muñiz said he admired Canady without knowing him, and the column prompted him to move to Tallahassee.
“It’s not an exaggeration that that column led me to apply for a job to work with Charles Canady and Gov. Bush. And that one opportunity has led to everything else,” he said. “Thank you, Charles.”
Muñiz selected Canady to administer his oath, and the chief justice observed, “I have performed no duty in my public life that has brought me as much satisfaction than to administer the oath of the Florida Supreme Court to Justice Carlos Muñiz.”
Luck also thanked his family, including wife, Jennifer, and children, Julia and Jacob, and present and former colleagues. He also, like Muñiz, thanked DeSantis and members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission for facing the unprecedented task of filling three vacancies at once and DeSantis for completing the task in his first days in office.
President John Stewart carried out the Bar’s traditional duty of presenting a religious text to each new justice. He took the opportunity to quote John William Davis, who served as solicitor general under President Woodrow Wilson, on the role of judges and lawyers:
“True, we build no bridges. We raise no towers. We construct no engines. We paint no pictures — unless as amateurs for our own amusement. There’s little at all we do that the eye of man can see. But we smooth out difficulties; we relieve stress; we correct mistakes; we take up other men’s burdens and by our efforts we make possible the peaceful lives of men in a peaceful state.”
Luck, a fifth-generation Floridian, attended public schools in Miami and earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. After working for Carnes, he became an assistant U.S. attorney in South Florida and was appointed by Gov. Scott to the circuit bench in 2013 and the Third DCA in 2017.
Muñiz earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and worked for the U.S. Department of Justice before attending Yale Law School. He clerked for two federal judges before joining a Washington, D.C., law firm, and then taking the job in the Bush administration. In succeeding years, he held a variety of government positions mixed with stints in private practice.