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Appointment of Francis, Couriel expands Florida high court's diversity
By Michael Carroll | May 27, 2020

Judge Renatha Francis

Judge Renatha Francis will take her seat on the Florida Supreme Court in September.

MIAMI – Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded cultural diversity on the Florida Supreme Court and highlighted the concept of judicial restraint Monday when he named Caribbean-American Renatha Francis and Cuban-American John Couriel to fill two judicial vacancies.

At a press conference, both Francis and Couriel signaled they share the governor’s view that judges should play a limited role within the state’s constitutional system of government. Judges should apply laws as they are written by the people’s duly elected representatives, Francis said in her remarks.

DeSantis selected Francis, a Palm Beach circuit judge, and Couriel, an attorney with Kobre & Kim LLP, from a list of nine finalists assembled by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. The process to fill the two seats vacated by the elevation of justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals got under way in December, but the selection was delayed two months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Judge Francis will be the first Caribbean-American to sit on the Florida Supreme Court, and she may be the first Caribbean-American to sit on any state supreme court,” DeSantis said.

John Couriel John Couriel

The governor also honored the values of the state’s Cuban-American community during his comments about Couriel, a Harvard Law School graduate and an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Couriel is the son of a Cuban exile who escaped from Cuba when it was led by Fidel Castro.

“They understand the importance of having a society based on rule of law rather than on the whim of an individual dictator,” DeSantis said.

Francis, who will take office in September once she completes the required 10 years as a member of the Florida Bar, described her mom as a Jamaican small farmer who imparted grit, determination and hard work.

“I am truly the epitome of the American dream,” she said.

Couriel, who had the backing of former Gov. Jeb Bush, will bring extensive business experience to the high court.

“My prayer today is that your judgment will have been good,” Couriel told DeSantis during the press conference, “and that my judgment will not let you down.”

Reaction to the governor’s announcement was positive among a number of observers, including the Florida Justice Reform Institute, which fights against wasteful civil litigation in the state.

The institute “applauds Gov. DeSantis for his thoughtful and decisive leadership as he continues to reshape the Florida Supreme Court,” William Large, the institute’s president, said in a statement emailed to the Florida Record. “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.”

The Florida Chamber of Commerce also praised the appointments of Couriel and Francis.

“Today’s appointments are certainly welcome news as they continue Gov. DeSantis’ track record of selecting highly qualified legal minds that have proven capable of resisting the urge to legislate from the bench and limit their role to the interpretation of duly passed laws,” David Hart, the chamber’s executive vice president, said in an email.