Gov. DeSantis Appoints Four Appellate Judges

Gov. Ron DeSantis has appointed four appellate judges this summer.

In May, following the elevation of two Florida Supreme Court justices to federal positions, DeSantis appointed Renatha Francis and John Couriel to fill the vacancies in the Florida Supreme Court. In June, DeSantis filled vacancies on the 1st and 4th District Courts of Appeals by appointing Robert Long Jr. and Edward Artau. 

Few cases appealed will be heard by the Florida Supreme Court, with most cases instead settled in one of Florida’s five intermediate appellate courts: the District Courts of Appeals. This is in stark contrast to the years prior to 1957 when all appeals were heard by the Florida Supreme Court, as the District Courts of Appeals did not exist.

DeSantis had previously appointed three justices to the Supreme Court. As Florida State University Professor Emeritus Charles Ehrhardt explained, two of these justices were quickly selected to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appeals court for the southeastern United States.

“So that is unusual,” Ehrhardt said. “But that’s a question-a combination and question of timing with three judges or three justices retiring right when DeSantis took office.”

DeSantis’ new picks for the Florida Supreme Court are both affiliated with the Federalist Society, an influential organization of lawyers that DeSantis has been involved with since his years at Harvard. Although the organization is nonpartisan, it is mostly composed of libertarians and conservatives.

A former Palm Beach County Circuit judge, Francis will be the first Jamaican American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. The son of Cuban immigrants, Couriel was formerly an attorney at the Miami law firm Kobre & Kim before being appointed. He ran for the Florida Senate as a Republican in 2012 and for the Florida House in 2016, losing both races.  

In the next years, the Florida Supreme Court will likely be considering issues surrounding abortion, gerrymandering, school choice and several constitutional amendments including Constitutional Amendment 4.

As the 1st District Court of Appeals includes Tallahassee, DeSantis’ new appointment Long Jr. may be considering appeals of civil cases concerning the actions of the state and governor.

A resident of Tallahassee and a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve with a young family, Long Jr. had previously applied to be a Florida Supreme Court Justice. He is also affiliated with the Federalist Society and was general counsel for the Leon County Sheriff’s Department before getting appointed.

DeSantis’ appointment to the 4th District Court of Appeals, Georgetown Law alum Edward Artau, was formerly the general counsel for the South Florida Water Management District.

Chairperson of the Judicial Nominating Committee for the 4th District Court of Appeals Debra Jenks said, “The law affects us all day every day and… as a commission when we recommend and put the applicants on the top six names… we are looking for people that will follow the law as written and will do so in a thoughtful and proper manner.”

Daniel Woodring of Woodring Law Firm said that appellate judges are vital to upholding the rule of law and legal predictability in the state.

Although Florida citizens vote on whether appellate judges should remain in office during retention elections, according to Ballotpedia in 2012, no Florida appellate judge has ever lost in a retention election. 

Featured image: The Florida Supreme Court in Tallahassee, Florida. Unmodified photo by Ebyabe used under a Creative Commons License.

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