DeSantis to fill another Florida Supreme Court vacancy

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Florida Supreme Court

Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson announced Friday that he will retire on August 31, a move that will allow Governor Ron DeSantis to leave his mark on the state’s highest court.

Lawson, who was appointed judge in 2016 by former Governor Rick Scott, will end a 21-year judicial career that has also included serving as a circuit judge in the Orlando area and a member of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

“One of the greatest joys of my 35-year legal career has been and still is the ability to partner with a bank and bar filled with extraordinary individuals who work tirelessly to ensure that the citizens we serve are well served by our system of justice.” Lawson, 60, wrote in a retirement letter to DeSantis. “That system is often criticized, but it is still considered the best justice system the world has ever seen.”

Lawson has been part of a major conservative shift in the Supreme Court over the past three years. That shift was prompted by the retirement in early 2019 of longtime judges Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who had helped form a relatively liberal majority.

Three DeSantis appointees — Justices Carlos Muñiz, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans — have joined Lawson, Chief Justice Charles Canady and Judge Ricky Polston to form a solid conservative majority in the seven-member court. Judge Jorge Labarga, who joined Pariente, Lewis and Quince on many important issues, is now often a lone dissident.

DeSantis will nominate a successor to Lawson after a judicial nomination committee interviews the candidates and makes recommendations.

“I have every hope that you will further strengthen Florida’s justice system by appointing my replacement thoughtfully and thoughtfully,” Lawson wrote in the letter to DeSantis. “Godspeed if you start that process.”

A Supreme Court announcement did not detail Lawson’s future plans, though it did describe his involvement in charitable work, including medical efforts in Central America.

“Julie and I plan to enjoy their retirement, prioritizing family, health and fitness, spiritual growth and development, friends, the outdoor sports we enjoy, and charitable work in the United States and abroad,” Lawson said in a prepared statement, referring to his wife Julie.

In the announcement, Lawson called serving on the Supreme Court the “highest honor I have enjoyed in my career.”

“I reiterate my gratitude to Rick Scott for the trust he has placed in me by giving me this opportunity,” said Lawson, a law graduate of Florida State University. “I also want to thank every judge with whom I have had the privilege of serving alongside him: I appreciate and respect each and every one of you. To those I serve now, I can only say that leaving you, this wonderful institution and our court family is the most emotionally difficult decision of my life, although I know it is the right decision and the right time.”

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