Florida Supreme Court Awaits New Conservative Justice
The Florida Supreme Court will have a vacancy when Justice James E.C. Perry retires Dec. 30. That means Gov. Rick Scott will name a new justice to the seven-member court in the coming weeks.
It’s Scott’s first time appointing a justice to the state’s highest court.
The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission interviewed 11 candidates and chose three nominees to send to the governor. It’s a small list considering Scott asked the commission to send him six nominees.
“I must say the fact that they refused to send him six after receiving that request gives me some confidence in the commission. That tells me that the commission is acting with some integrity,” says Florida State University President Emeritus Talbot "Sandy" D’Alemberte. He’s also former president of the American Bar Association and former dean of the FSU College of Law, where he remains on the faculty. “We have a Judicial Nominating Commission process that works.”
That process began in the 1970s under Gov. Reubin Askew. Anyone who wants to be on the high court must be screened by a nominating commission before going to the governor for consideration. Once the commission has supplied a list of candidates, the governor has 60 days to pick a new justice. Even if he’s unhappy with the choices, he can’t go back and tell the commission to send him more.
The three nominees on Gov. Scott's list are considered to be conservative. Two are from the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach -- Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson and Judge Wendy Berger. Orlando attorney Daniel J. Gerber rounds out the group.
One of these nominees will join a court that often delivers 5-2 rulings, with the conservative minority as dissenters. “We ought not to be too concerned about their orientation, liberal or conservative, because in my experience good justices may change their mind over a period of time when the proper argument is put before them,” D’Alemberte said.
D’Alemberte served Miami-Dade County as a state representative and was behind major reforms to Florida’s judicial system in the early 1970’s. One thing he would change is the court's mandatory retirement age - the reason for Justice Perry’s departure.
“I wish we could change the provision which makes judges and justices constitutionally senile at age 70. It seems to me that in this day and time that's far too young for people to be forced off the bench,” said the 83-year-old D’Alemberte. “As a person of advanced age, my personal view is that people still can function quite well certainly until they’re 80 or maybe later. So I'd love to see that provision of the Florida Constitution - taking people off the bench at 70 - removed and allow us to keep justices who are doing their job for longer than 70 years old.”
Gov. Scott must choose a new justice by late January, but D’Alemberte thinks it will happen sooner. “My hunch is he'll make the appointment well before then in order to have a full complement of justices on the court,” D’Alemberte said. “My guess is well before New Year’s we’ll have a new justice.”