JULY 02, 2009
Florida’s Republican governor violated the sate Constitution when he refused to fill an appeals court vacancy because all the candidates recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission were white.
The state’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled this week that Governor Charlie Crist must appoint one of the commission’s six nominees to fill an opening in central Florida, which he has refused to do because none of the candidates are minorities.
The vacancy in the Daytona Beach-based Fifth District Court of Appeal was created by the December retirement of Judge Robert Pleus. Florida’s Constitution says the governor has 60 days after receiving the nominating panel’s list to fill a court vacancy.
But when the governor got the Judicial Nominating Commission’s (JNC) roster of four white men and two women he asked the panel to reconsider and add minorities. The commission is made up of a group of lawyers, most appointed by Crist, who reviewed dozens of candidates including at least three black lawyers.
The commission rejected the governor’s request to add new candidates and a standoff ensued with Crist refusing to make the appointment. In March, the retiring judge asked the Supreme Court to order Crist to name his replacement from the existing list.
In its 11-page ruling the Supreme Court says that the governor lacks the authority under the Constitution to seek a new list of nominees from the JNC and has a mandatory duty to fill the vacancy. It goes on to "applaud the governor’s interest in achieving diversity in the judiciary" but says the Constitution does not grant him the discretion to refuse or postpone making an appointment.
Crist, a former Florida Attorney General who is running for U.S. Senator in 2010, says he remains committed to ensuring that the diversity of the people of Florida is represented in the judiciary.
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