The Cuban American might be among the justices nominated by President Donald Trump to fill Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s chair this weekend.
After the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the United States Supreme Court associate justice, the government has become focused on naming her replacement as soon as possible. President Donald Trump would like to have a successor in place as soon as this Friday or Saturday.
The naming of Ginsburg’s successor revives an old issue among Republicans and Democrats, as both parties want their ideological position to prevail among the judges in the nation’s highest court.
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Historically, justices designated by Republicans are conservative, while liberal judges are appointed by Democrats.
Of the eight judges currently in the Supreme Court, five are conservative and three liberal. Among the liberals judges is Sonia Sotomayor, born in the Bronx, New York, to Puerto Rican parents, the first Hispanic to serve in the highest court of record.
Among the candidates Trump has considered to fill the vacant chair is conservative Cuban American Bárbara Lagoa, who currently serves in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal, which includes the Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts of Florida.
Her possible appointment might be the president’s way of gaining favor from voters in Florida, the largest swing state in the US. Trump told Fox News, “She’s excellent. She’s Hispanic. She’s a terrific woman from everything I know. I don’t know her. Florida. We love Florida.”
Trump will be visiting Miami this Thursday for campaign events. Earlier this week, the president said he would meet Lagoa during the visit. On Wednesday, however, he told reporters at a news conference that he is not planning on meeting her.
Professor José R. Rivera-González, an expert in international politics, told The Americano that Lagoa is a legal scholar—a jurist who favors the integrity of the constitution and tends to interpret laws exactly as written. Legal scholars, he said, consider changes to the law at a slow pace.
“Bárbara Lagoa is less of an activist than other conservative judges in the federal circuit,” the professor said. “She’s been outspoken against abortion and DACA protections. She’s been outspoken against ‘other’ religions, and that is problematic.”
Lagoa was a state appeals judge in Florida from 2006 to 2019. Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court, becoming the first Cuban American woman to serve there. She was appointed federal appeals judge in December 2019.
Here are some cases that demonstrate Lagoa’s take on judicial matters:
Minimum Wage and Uber
In several cases, Lagoa has sided with larger interests. In 2017, she was part of a three-judge panel that decided unanimously that Uber drivers are not entitled to unemployment benefits because of their status as independent contractors. In February 2019, the Miami Beach City Commission voted to phase in a citywide hourly minimum wage of $13.31 by 2021. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) sued, arguing the city did not have the authority to go beyond state jurisdiction. Miami Beach appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. Lagoa, with the majority of the Court, dismissed the appeal.
Restoring Voting Rights
As a federal appeals judge, Lagoa sided with the majority in upholding a state law requiring Floridians with felony convictions to pay all of their fines and fees before they can vote in elections.
Civil-rights and voting-rights groups challenged the law, arguing that it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax. Lagoa rejected the argument, stating that “Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement scheme is constitutional. It falls to the citizens of the State of Florida and their elected state legislators, not to federal judges, to make any additional changes to it.”
Despite Lagoa’s conservative views, her position regarding abortion is unclear. When she was named to the Florida Supreme Court, the anti-abortion group Florida Family Policy Council sang her praises. As an originalist—law officials advocating the constitution should be followed strictly as written—Lagoa stated the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision established a nationwide right to abortion, and was therefore a “settled law.”
Lagoa was part of a team of lawyers who did pro bono legal work to prevent the return of Elián González, a 5-year-old boy who was found three miles off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Cuba in 2000. The case was notorious, as an international custody battle ensued between the boy’s relatives in Miami along with the Cuban exile community and the boy’s father and Fidel Castro’s regime. González was eventually returned to his father’s custody in Cuba.
Lagoa has been a member of the Federalist Society, which advocates an originalist and textualist interpretation of the Constitution, since 1998. She has declined to answer questions from senators on several controversial and hypothetical issues, citing judicial rules barring judges from publicly commenting on matters that could come before the court.
On Jan. 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court—before Lagoa was appointed as one of its judges—held in the case Glass v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC a ruling that made it easier for homeowners to recover legal fees under a mortgage contract if a bank improperly filed a foreclosure action. Between 2012 and 2017, 16,654 reverse mortgage holders went into foreclosure in Florida. After Lagoa joined the court, along with two other judges picked by Gov. DeSantis, the court withdrew the decision, affecting those homeowners.