Gov. DeSantis names Couriel, Francis to Florida Supreme Court
June 04, 2020
BY ANA CEBALLOS - News Service of Florida
Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed John Couriel and Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court, choosing two justices expected to cement the court’s conservative majority for years to come.
DeSantis said the appointments, made May 28, came two months late because he was focused on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting that he wanted to dedicate sufficient time to properly vet the candidates.
In selecting Couriel and Francis, DeSantis tapped two justices who share his conservative views on the limited role of the courts, after a liberal-leaning bloc for years thwarted Republican lawmakers and governors on numerous high-profile policy fronts.
“The Florida Supreme Court protects the people’s liberty, and part of doing that is respecting the limited role that judges play in our constitutional system of government. As judges, we exercise neither force nor will, merely judgment,” Francis said.
Francis, a Palm Beach County circuit judge, was born in Jamaica and will become the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Supreme Court, DeSantis said. She also will be the first black justice since Peggy Quince retired early last year.
“Her understanding of the Constitution reminds me of another famous Caribbean- American, Alexander Hamilton,” DeSantis said. “Hamilton articulated what Judge Francis deeply understands: that the judiciary lacks authority to indulge its legislative preferences.”
DeSantis also praised Couriel, a Miami litigator.
“One of the things that John brings is he instinctively understands the proper role of the judiciary. He understands the structural limitations in the Constitution, all those things that you would want,” DeSantis said.
Couriel, who once served as a federal prosecutor and who was recommended by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, will bring “extensive business experience” to the court, DeSantis said.
“They (the Supreme Court justices) are all great judges, but I think John brings something additional, which will be very, very good going forward,” the governor said.
Couriel and Francis will replace former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who last year were appointed by DeSantis and later picked by President Donald Trump for positions on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appointments were lauded by a legal group that works closely with business and insurance interests.
“The governor’s appointments of John Couriel and Renatha Francis as the 90th and 91st Justices continue his mission to restore the court to its proper role as the interpreter of our laws, not the author,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.
DeSantis has been able to reshape the court, in part, because Quince and former justices Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis were forced to retire in January 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age. They had been part of a generally liberal majority that controlled the court.
Shortly after taking office in January 2019, DeSantis appointed Lagoa, Luck and Carlos Muniz to replace the retiring justices.
Combined with remaining conservative justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson, the three newcomers immediately created a conservative majority.
Even with the elevation of Lagoa and Luck to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court has retained a four-member conservative majority, with Justice Jorge Labarga dissenting on some high-profile issues.
Labarga often joined with Pariente, Lewis and Quince in the past.