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Could FL Supreme Court Battle Spark a Constitutional Crisis?

The new appointments to Florida's Supreme Court are likely to reshape the seven-member Court for years, if not decades. (Bruin79/Wikimedia Creative Commons)
The new appointments to Florida's Supreme Court are likely to reshape the seven-member Court for years, if not decades. (Bruin79/Wikimedia Creative Commons)
October 1, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida is in the midst of its own Supreme Court nomination controversy, as terms for three of the seven justices expire around the same time a new governor will be sworn into office.

Gov. Rick Scott is publicly claiming his right to find replacements for Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. But in a lawsuit, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause argue that this power should fall to the incoming governor.

Speaking on The Rotunda podcast, League attorney John Mills said lawyers have agreed and the law is clear that Scott doesn't have the authority to fill the vacancies.

"You know, when somebody tells you they are going to do something crazy, you should believe them. And so, we do believe that he'll do it, even though he's admitted he doesn't have the authority,” Mills said. “And the second those nominations are made, if he's in office and he makes an appointment, we have a constitutional crisis."

That's because the seven-person court needs five justices to make decisions. Scott, a Republican, is pushing forward, claiming precedent from past governors working together during transitions to avoid extended vacancies on the high court.

Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and vetting applications for the court appointments. The deadline for those applications is October 8. And there's another deadline, two days after the November 6 general election, for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.

Mills said in his opinion, the commission should start reviewing candidates, but nominations are premature.

"You can't make the nominations to somebody who has no power to make them,” he said. “And part of the reason for that - I mean, just aside from common sense - is that the Constitution requires the governor to make the appointments within 60 days of the nominations."

While Scott claims he'll work together with his successor on interviewing nominees, agreement is far from certain if progressive Democrat Andrew Gillum assumes office, or even for Republican Ron DeSantis, who has asserted his right to choose. The new governor takes office on January 8.

Trimmel Gomes, Public News Service - FL