Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced the appointment of Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court.
Francis, who was among six finalists sent to DeSantis by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission this summer, will replace outgoing Justice Alan Lawson, who will retire from the bench on Aug. 31. Lawson stepped down more than a decade in advance of justices’ mandatory retirement age of 75.
Francis will officially take her seat on the Supreme Court on Sept. 1, 2022.
Francis, who will be the court’s first Jamaican-American justice, was the only Black nominee on the list presented to the governor this summer. The court has not had a Black justice since former Justice Peggy Quince stepped down after reaching a mandatory retirement age in 2019.
DeSantis announced the appointment in Francis’ hometown of West Palm Beach.
Francis has served as a judge on the 15th Circuit Court since 2019 and previously served as a judge at the Miami-Dade County Court from 2017-2019. Francis also served as an attorney for the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee from 2011-2017.
Before attending law school, Francis owned and successfully operated two businesses for five years in her native country of Jamaica.
“Judge Renatha Francis has an incredible life story that epitomizes the American Dream and proves that those who come to our country have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and, through hard work and the application of their God-given talents, reach the highest heights of whatever field they choose,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis said in addition to running the businesses in Jamaica, Francis was the primary caregiver for her younger sibling.
“Her pursuit of a legal career began later in life than most attorneys, yet she has advanced rapidly on her merit to serve as a judge first in Miami-Dade County and then on the 15th Circuit Court. When she takes her place on the Florida Supreme Court, I am confident she will serve our state with distinction,” DeSantis said.
Francis received her bachelor’s degree from the University of The West Indies and her Juris Doctorate from Florida Coastal School of Law.
Francis was appointed by DeSantis to the Supreme Court two years ago but her nomination was challenged because she had not been a member of The Florida Bar for 10 years at the time.
“I’m incredibly honored and humbled by Governor DeSantis’ unwavering support for my ascension to the Florida Supreme Court,” Francis said. “I may be taking my seat on the bench two years later than anticipated, but as a student of history, I continue to be in awe of this country’s respect for the rule of law and the freedoms guaranteed in the text of the United States Constitution. As a Supreme Court Justice, I will apply the law as written by the people’s duly-elected representatives, knowing that I am a member of the judiciary in a system with separation of powers.”
Wrangling over Francis’ 2020 appointment began when state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, asked the Supreme Court to find that DeSantis’ choice of Francis violated the state Constitution because Francis would not reach a 10-year Bar membership requirement for justices until Sept. 24, 2020.
DeSantis in May 2020 announced he was choosing Francis and John Couriel to fill two Supreme Court openings, selecting them from a list of nine candidates submitted by the nominating commission.
Couriel immediately joined the Supreme Court, but DeSantis said Francis would be sworn in as a justice after she reached the Bar requirement months later.
In a rebuke to DeSantis, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected his selection of Francis and ordered the governor to appoint another candidate from the list of nominees. He subsequently appointed Justice Jamie Grosshans.
DeSantis reiterated Friday that he disagreed with the court’s decision about Francis. He also said that, although he had chosen her two years ago, Francis wasn’t “entitled” to be named as Lawson’s successor.
“I said I am going to do it from scratch, no preconceived notions and we’re going to go with the person that we think has done the best job,” he said. “We were happy to appoint or trying to appoint Judge Francis two years ago … but then seeing how she’s progressed since then, she’s done even better.”
DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, sketched out his judicial philosophy Friday morning at the Richard & Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, referring to the “founding fathers” as he introduced Francis.
“Our government here in the United States and in the state of Florida is supposed to be what’s called a government of laws, not a government of men,” he said, calling out judges who have “taken power away from people’s elected representatives” by having “legislated from the bench.”
“And that’s not their role. Their role is to apply the law and Constitution as it’s written,” he added. “It’s really important that courts are discharging the duties that they have under the Constitution within the confines of those limitations.”
Since he took office less than four years ago, DeSantis’ appointments have secured a conservative shift on the seven-member court, following the mandatory retirements in 2019 of Quince and two other longtime justices, Barbara Pariente and R. Fred Lewis.
DeSantis appointed Couriel, Grosshans and now-Chief Justice Carlos Muniz, who joined Lawson and Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston to form a solid conservative majority. Justice Jorge Labarga, who joined Pariente, Lewis and Quince on many major issues, is now often a lone dissenter.
Shortly after taking office, DeSantis also appointed Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the Supreme Court, but they were later tapped by former President Donald Trump to serve on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. DeSantis subsequently selected Couriel and Grosshans.
With four of the seven-member court’s justices appointed by DeSantis, the Republican governor will leave his Federalist Society imprint on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
Francis’ brandished her Federalist Society credentials on Friday with a quote from Alexander Hamilton’s admonition in the Federalist Papers that judges “exercise neither force nor will, but merely judgment.”
“We apply the law as written. This timeless principle of civil society not only promotes uniformity, predictability. It’s essential to preserving liberty. It restrains arbitrariness. It restrains abuses of power. And if history teaches us anything, is that as simple and enduring as this principle is, it’s evaded the vast majority of human history until this American experiment,” she said.
Francis and her husband Phillip are the parents of two sons.