Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sternly criticized a Black Democratic lawmaker for challenging his pick of a Jamaican-American woman for the Supreme Court, saying Wednesday that if the representative wins her case, there will be no Black justices on the high court.
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson is challenging the selection of Judge Renatha Francis because she did not meet the constitutional requirement of being a Florida Bar member for at least 10 years. DeSantis knew that when she was appointed in May, but said Francis would not take her oath to sit on the Supreme Court until Sept. 24, when she'll meet the requirement.
“The problem I have in this case, is this particular representative has been somebody that’s been very vocal about wanting to have a Black justice on the Florida Supreme Court. Well guess what? The petition she has filed right now would block a Black Justice,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Broward County.
He also pointed out that if Thompson wins the case, he would be forced to pick from the original list of candidates given to him for the nomination.
“But guess what? None of them are going to be a Black justice. So if that is your goal, then this lawsuit is totally undermining what you stated that you wanted to do. When I see a politician saying one thing and doing another, to me that’s the hypocrisy that so many people are sick and tired of,” DeSantis said.
Thompson did not immediately reply to a phone message left at her office or an email sent to her and one of her aides.
If sworn in, Francis would become the first Caribbean-American to serve on Florida's Supreme Court. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult and working her way through law school.
“That a Black, immigrant woman from a small island, with no famed family name or wealth, no inherent powerful connections, could potentially rise to the highest state court in one of the most important states is a testament to just how great this country is,” Francis said.
She described herself as having a working class background as she put herself through school while raising a much younger sibling.
“I had to work and earn every dollar to self-fund my dream of becoming an attorney. No handouts, no handups, just navigating through a system that was completely alien to me,” she said. “I am truly the epitome of the American dream."
In a ruling two weeks ago, the Supreme Court said DeSantis exceeded his authority by appointing a constitutionally ineligible nominee, but did not undo the appointment, saying Thompson's suggested remedy wasn't legally available.
Thompson had requested a new list of candidates for DeSantis to choose from, but the court said the proper solution would be to have him pick another candidate from the original list. She has since refiled the petition asking justices to nullify Francis's appointment and have DeSantis pick a candidate from the original list.
DeSantis and Francis were joined Wednesday by several Democratic Black local and state elected officials who defended his pick and asked Thompson to drop her challenge.
“I want to take a moment to speak to Rep. Thompson, Black woman to Black woman,” said Democratic Rep. Dotie Joseph. “Rep. Thompson, I'm asking mercy for Judge Francis. Just mercy.”