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Florida high court rules governor cannot delay judicial appointment for diversity

[JURIST] The Florida Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion text, PDF] on Thursday that Republican Governor Charlie Christ [official profile] could not delay a decision on filling a vacancy in Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal [official website] in order to consider more diverse candidates. In November, Crist was provided [press release] a list candidates by the Judicial Nominating Commission of Fifth District Court of Appeal (JNC) [Committee list] in order to fill the vacancy resulting from the retirement of Judge Robert J. Pleus [official profile], due to age. Crist rejected the initial list, and requested the JNC reconvene to review other applicants, in particular three African-Americans. When the JNC resubmitted the same list of candidates, Crist did not make an appointment. The Supreme Court held that Crist's actions were unconstitutional.

In its decision, the court concluded that the Florida Constitution [text] requires Crist to make a decision from the candidates approved by the JNC, and the decision must be within the constitutionally specified 60 day period:

The plain language of article V, section 11(c), mandates that the Governor, upon receipt of the certified list of nominees from a judicial nominating commission, make an appointment from that list within sixty days to fill the judicial vacancy... we note the absence of any language granting the Governor authority to reject the JNC’s certified list of nominees or to extend the time in which the appointment for judicial office must be made.

[A]rticle V, section 11(c), imposes a clear and indisputable legal duty upon the Governor in his exercise of appointing judicial nominees to act within sixty days of receiving the certified list of nominees... In so holding, we reject the proposition that the Governor’s failure to act within the mandated time frame obviates that duty. To hold otherwise would render the constitutional provision nugatory.
The suit was brought by Pleus, seeking a writ of mandamus in order to force the Governor to make a choice from the original list. The initial list provided by the JNC was made up of six candidates out of a pool of twenty-six. All of the candidates approved by the JNC were white [Miami Herald report], four of whom are male, two are female.

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