After a blocked attempt two years ago, DeSantis once again appoints Francis – a Federalist Society member with strong constitutional views – to Florida’s highest court.
by Josh Miller
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA – On August 5, 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis appointed Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court.
During a press conference at the Richard & Pat Johnson History Museum, DeSantis elaborated on the critical role that an independent judiciary plays in the government of Florida. He cautioned that courts are to decide cases and controversies – but they must not act like quasi-politicians without the accountability of an elected official.
“Our government here in the United States and the State of Florida is supposed to be a government of laws, not a government of men. The best way to preserve our freedoms is to have a society based on the rule of law,” DeSantis said.
FRANCIS’ SECOND APPOINTMENT
This is the second time that the governor appoints Francis to the Florida Supreme Court. The first attempt – in May 2020 – was unsuccessful. Shortly after that appointment of Francis, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat from Windermere, filed suit alleging that Francis was not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.
In the lawsuit, Thompson stated that the Judicial Nominating Commission for the Florida Supreme Court “exceeded the limits of its authority” by listing Francis among the nominees since Francis had not met a legal requirement.
During the trial, Daniel Nordby – a Tallahassee attorney who served as general counsel for former governor Rick Scott – argued that the Supreme Court should dismiss Thompson's legal challenge due to lack of standing.
But Francis withdrew her name from consideration after the Florida Supreme Court ruled her ineligible. At the time, Francis had not yet been a member of the Florida Bar for ten years – a requirement stipulated in the state constitution.
“EPITOMIZES THE AMERICAN DREAM”
DeSantis announced that he would once again appoint Francis to the state's highest court: “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,” the governor stated.
Born and raised in Jamaica, Francis ran two successful enterprises while being the primary caregiver for her younger sibling while also attending college at the University of the West Indies. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science, magna cum laude, in 2001.
Francis moved to Florida in 2004 and went through the process to become a U.S. citizen. She earned her Juris Doctor in 2010 from Florida Coastal School of Law. Her career began as a law clerk in Florida's First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.
After a brief stint as a litigator in Miami at the law firm Shutts & Bowen, she was appointed to the Miami-Dade County Court in 2017 by then Governor Rick Scott. One year later, Scott championed her to Miami-Dade's Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court. Then, in 2019 Governor Ron DeSantis appointed her in a lateral move to the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Palm Beach County, where she was assigned to the probate and unified family court division.
ONLY BLACK WOMAN SINCE QUINCE
Francis will be the first non-Cuban American from the Caribbean to sit on the highest bench in Florida. She will also serve as the only woman and only black Florida Supreme Court justice since Peggy Quince, who retired in 2019. Francis is DeSantis' sixth appointment to the state’s highest court.
“I'm incredibly honored and humbled by Governor DeSantis' unwavering support for my ascension to the Florida Supreme Court," said Judge Francis. "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,” she said in a statement released by the governor’s office.
Francis will replace Justice Alan Lawson, who retires on August 31. Lawson's judicial career spanned over 21 years, with six years on the Florida Supreme Court. DeSantis commended Lawson for serving with distinction.