Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to tout a “bold vision for a brighter future” at his inauguration. What he is unlikely to mention is that due to the outsized political influence on the nominating process he will be remaking the Florida Supreme Court with no African American representation for the first time in decades. Gov. DeSantis has the opportunity to begin to right this wrong by supporting important reforms to help ensure Florida’s courts better reflect the diversity of our state.
“The current system has clearly failed to reflect the nonpartisan, diverse, and qualified judiciary the people of Florida want and deserve,” said Trelvis Randolph, General Counsel of the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP. “Gov. DeSantis has the opportunity to begin to right this injustice and set Florida up for a brighter future.”
Senate Bill 138 and House Bill 93 would overhaul the commission process to ensure that those who choose Florida’s judges are reflective of the diversity of Florida, rather than serving as a partisan political tool of the governor’s office, as it has been under Rick Scott.
Florida’s judicial system was once a model for the nation. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. A report by the Florida Access to Justice Project found that political influences have become a greater threat to the independence of the courts and its ability to act as a check and balance.
When the Judicial Nominating Commissions were established in the 1970s they were supposed to act independently as a check on executive power but that has changed in recent years. Gov. Rick Scott has rejected approximately 90 Florida Bar recommendations for JNCs, pushing them closer to being a political arm of the Governor’s Office.
What’s more, Florida’s population is 22 percent Hispanic and 16 percent African-American. Yet among the state’s judiciary, fewer than nine percent of judges are Hispanic, and fewer than seven percent are African-American. The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy issued a report, “The Gavel Gap”, which assigned Florida an overall grade of ‘F’ when comparing the race and gender composition of the courts and the communities they serve.
The Florida Access to Justice Project envisions a judiciary reflective of our diverse state and free from the undue influence of special interest money, with access to justice for all.