Her appointment gives the court a majority of conservative justices picked by the state’s Republican governor.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday appointed Palm Beach County Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court.
This was not the Republican governor’s first stab at placing Francis in the state’s Supreme Court. In 2020 he tried to appoint her to the position, but because a provision of the state constitution requires justices to be members of the Florida Bar for at least 10 years, her appointment was nullified by the Florida Supreme Court. At the time, Francis was four months away from that requirement.
With her appointment, Francis—who is a member of the Federalist Society, a longtime DeSantis mentor—gives the court a majority of conservative justices picked by DeSantis.
A Contentious Appointment
The Jamaica born Francis graduated from the University of West Indies before moving to the United States and receiving her law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She became a member of the Bar on Sept. 24, 2010. Since then, she was named to the Miami-Dade County bench, handling civil cases, by Sen. Rick Scott. Her rise continued as DeSantis appointed her to the Palm Beach County bench, even though she didn’t live there at the time, but claimed her husband had a job opportunity in that county. DeSantis has also appointed her husband, Phillip Fender, to the Judicial Nominating Commission in Palm Beach County, even though he’s not a lawyer.
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Francis’ appointment, however, has faced some backlash.
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-Windermere), who had sued to stop the previous nomination due to the 10-year requirement, said Friday that she still has doubts about whether Francis is qualified for the court.
“She has 10 years but clearly is minimally qualified, even today,” Thompson said. “[DeSantis] has a political agenda, and he certainly wants people on the Florida Supreme Court who are going to help him accomplish that agenda.”
A Worrisome Trend
The appointment on Friday came a day after DeSantis suspended 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren, the chief prosecutor for Hillsborough County, after calling him “woke” and knocking him for opposing GOP-backed legislation targeting transgender medical care and stating that he would not pursue criminal charges against women seeking abortions after the US Supreme Court’s decision to undo Roe v. Wade.
“People need to understand: This isn’t the governor trying to suspend one elected official. This is the governor trying to overthrow democracy here in Hillsborough County,” Warren stated before the press, adding that DeSantis is “abusing his power to serve his own political ambition.”
True to DeSantis
For her part, during her acceptance speech, in which she thanked Sen. Scott and her mentors, Francis echoed the view of DeSantis and the conservative Federalist Society that judges should rely on the text of the law and the Constitution, rather than relying on things like prior court rulings or legislative history.
She will officially take her seat on Sept. 1, joining six other justices.