Florida Gov. Rick Scott picked Charles Alan Lawson to replace Justice James Perry on the state Supreme Court on Friday and said he plans to pick three more justices on the day he leaves office in 2019 - a decision that could change the balance of the court for years to come.
Lawson serves as the chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal, which is based in Daytona Beach, and has compared himself to Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady, one of the high court's most conservative judges.
"He's not going to legislate from the bench," Scott said. "We all took a civics class. I don't get to pass laws. I get to either sign or not sign bills, but I don't get to pass them. The judges should not be passing laws on their own. They should not be creating law."
When asked what laws the court has created, Scott didn't name any.
The court has frustrated Scott and GOP leaders on issues ranging from the death penalty to abortion. The decisions have often been decided on a 5-2 vote, with Canady and fellow conservative Ricky Polston on the losing side. The court is now likely to start seeing more 4-3 decisions, with Lawson joining Canady and Polston.
Lawson is the first justice Scott has been able to pick since taking office in 2011. He will replace Justice James Perry, who is stepping down Dec. 30 because of the state's mandatory retirement age for justices. Lawson was first appointed to a judgeship in 2002 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush then appointed him to the 5th District Court of Appeal in 2005.
"Charles Canady is a dear friend, as is Ricky Polston," Lawson said. "The way I approach statutory construction issues and constitutional issues matches closely with Justice Canady."
If Scott gets his way, the Supreme Court could become stacked with six conservative judges. Three more justices - Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince - also will be forced out due to age the day Scott leaves office, and there's a debate on whether the outgoing governor or incoming governor should appoint their replacements. Justices have to retire after they turn 70, but are allowed to complete their term, which for these three justices ends on inauguration day 2019.
Republican lawmakers asked voters in 2014 to give that right to the outgoing governor, but the proposed constitutional amendment was rejected by more than half the state's voters - well short of the 60 percent approval it needed. If a Democrat is elected in 2018 to replace Scott, it's sure to be a contentious battle for control of the court.
To Scott, there is no debate.
"I'll appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term," Scott said.
The very thought was upsetting to House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.
"I am deeply troubled by Governor Scott's assertion this morning that he intends to break with precedent and select three Supreme Court Justices as he leaves office," Cruz said. "He risks setting off a contentious legal battle with his successor that would mar the transition process and throw our state's highest court into uncertainty."