Florida Supreme Court

Citing a lack of black finalists for three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, the 17 members of the Florida Senate Democratic caucus sent letters to Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, urging them to call on a nominating commission to expand a list of proposed new justices for the state Supreme Court. Despite the plea from Senate Democrats, DeSantis and Scott don’t appear to have the authority to ask for additions to the list. 

The letters came after the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission last month advanced a list of 11 nominees to replace three retiring justices but did not include any African-American nominees. The Jan. 8 retirement of Justice Peggy Quince, the court’s only black justice, will leave the court without a black justice for the first time since early 1983. Tuesday’s letters noted the nominating commission, which was appointed by Scott, had the power to advance up to six nominees for each of the three upcoming vacancies on the state’s highest court, for a total of 18 nominees. The Democrats’ letter to DeSantis cited an “appalling lack of diversity in judicial appointments,” during Scott’s two terms as governor, including 32 appointments to lower appellate courts without the appointment of one black judge. “You have an opportunity to correct this stark imbalance as you have the power to insist on a full complement of 18 candidates to be considered,” the letter to DeSantis said. Democrats control 17 of the 40 seats in the state Senate.

However Scott and DeSantis hands appear to be tied. A 2009 Florida Supreme ruling found “the Governor is not provided the authority under the constitution to reject the certified list and request that a new list be certified.” 

News Service of Florida contributed to this story.