Florida Supreme Court Should Reflect State's Diversity, Says Local Attorney

Jan 8, 2019

Governor Ron DeSantis needs to fill three vacant seats on the Florida Supreme Court. During a "Thought Leaders Luncheon" Monday, DeSantis said he planned to name his first nominee Wednesday. 

Trelvis Randolph, a partner with the Miami law firm Cole, Scott and Kissane, argued recently in a piece in the Florida Phoenix that the governor needs to select "people who are actually reflective of the state of Florida." A list of candidates forwarded recently to DeSantis does not include a single African American. Randolph spoke to Sundial.

WLRN: So the governor really has a lot of power and influence over who's going to be on the bench.

Randolph: Yes, he does. And the reflection of the bench is more at this point a reflection of who's in office rather than the population of Florida, which we consider kind of troubling.

You could pick justices that may lean toward your party but that doesn't always mean they're going to favor anything that you're doing, right?

Right. It does. But the people who do the nominations have an obligation to send names to the governor whom they feel will reflect the community. As a community we expect people who are making these kinds of decisions [to] have to experience and reflect the community at large. And so when the process seems to be more of a political gamble -- meaning that only people who will be nominated will be people who are seen to be acceptable by the governor -- then the process is flawed and needs to be corrected.

What are some of the major cases that you could think of in which rulings by the Florida Supreme Court had an outsized influence on state politics?

Coming up now with the passage of Amendment 4, where we have the felony disenfranchisement process totally turned back to people who are eligible -- they are eligible to vote. Governor DeSantis has announced or put out his opinion that there needs to be some sort of intervention by the governor in order to halt that process or stall the process.

Because as of today people are registering to vote.

Yes and the way that the amendment was written and ... it is a self executing amendment. And so according to the amendment it should be something that goes into effect today. Anyone who is eligible should be able to vote. However, DeSantis has stated that he believes that there should be some sort of halt in the process and procedure and it's troubling.

It appears for the first time in nearly four decades that there will not be an African-American represented on the state Supreme Court, based upon the judges chosen from the judicial nominating commission. What concerns does that raise for you as it relates to the rulings on criminal justice and education?

Our concern is that there is no diversity on the Florida Supreme Court. These issues affect all the state of Florida. Each and every citizen is potentially affected. And so we want the bench to ... understand the community in which it represents. People in the community want to feel that the Florida Supreme Court actually represents them and their interests and can take into account the diversity of the state.

Florida is one of the most diverse states in the union and we feel that the Florida Supreme Court should reflect [that] when they're making their rules and making their decisions that affect the everyday lives of Florida citizens. Right now we have nominees sent to the governor and of those nominees not one is African-American. And so you know we feel that this is troubling.