Fla. Supremes Rule Gov. Must Pick Judge from All-White Panel
Posted Jul 7, 2009 12:40 PM CDT
By Sarah Mui
The Florida Supreme Court ruled last week that Gov. Charlie Crist had no consitutional authority to refuse to seat a new judge because he only had white nominees to choose from.
Robert J. Pleus retired from the state's Fifth District Court of appeal in September. Crist was given a list of six nominees—four men and two women—from which to choose a replacement for Pleus. The Miami Herald said Crist took all of the permitted 60 days to consider the applicants before asking the Judicial Nominating Commission on Dec. 1 for a more diverse list. He stated that "at least three well-qualified African Americans applied for nomination," but weren't finalists.
The commission responded by sending back the same six names, and Crist did not make a selection. Pleus responded by filing suit.
"While we applaud the governor's interest in achieving diversity in the judiciary—an interest we believe to be genuine and well-intentioned—the constitution does not grant the governor the discretion to refuse or postpone making an appointment to fill the vacancy on the Fifth District Court of Appeal," Justice Jorge Labarga wrote.
Crist said in a statement that he would comply with the ruling and choose a judge from the original list.
Pleus was represented by former ABA President Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte. The Herald reports that when D'Alemberte was a Florida legislator in the early 1970s, he helped write the law creating the judicial nominating commissions. Their purpose was to make judicial selection more fair and less political
Charles E. "Chuck" Hobbs, counsel for the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, who a friend-of-the-court brief on Crist's behalf expressing a desire for more transparency in the nominating commissions' meetings, the Ocala, Fla., Star-Banner reported. Hobbs was disappointed with the ruling.
"What concerns me is that [the court] failed to reach a decision as to the main issue, which is the lack of diversity coming forth from the individual JNCs," Hobbs said. "There are few black and Hispanic lawyers who are being forwarded to the governor for ultimate consideration for county, circuit and appellate level judgeships."