Thompson v. DeSantis

Docket Watch 2020

By Chloe C. Leedom

On September 11, 2020, the Supreme Court of Florida unanimously granted Florida State Representative Geraldine Thompson’s amended petition for a writ of mandamus ordering Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to appoint an eligible nominee to fill the vacancy left on Florida’s Supreme Court by Justice Robert Luck in November 2019.[1] After considering the governor’s response to an order to show cause for his delayed appointment,[2] the court ordered Governor DeSantis to fully comply by appointing an eligible justice to the court no later than September 14, 2020.[3]

Governor DeSantis had announced on May 26, 2020, that he would choose Judge Renatha Francis to fill the seat—one of seven people preapproved by the Judicial Nominating Commission (“JNC”).[4] She currently serves on the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in Palm Beach County, Florida.[5]

Judge Francis has been a member of the Florida Bar since September 24, 2010. The Florida Constitution requires ten years of Florida Bar membership before a jurist is eligible to serve on the state supreme court.[6] When Governor DeSantis announced his choice on May 26, Judge Francis was four months shy of the ten-year requirement.[7] Representative Thompson sought relief against Supreme Court JNC Chair Daniel Nordby and Governor DeSantis in their official capacities.[8] The factual basis for the petition was that, on the date of her appointment, Judge Francis had not been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding ten years.[9]

The court held that the bar eligibility requirement “attaches at the time of appointment,” instead of when the appointee assumes the duties of the office.[10] Thus, the governor argued that what happened on May 26 was merely an “announcement” and that the petitioner was calculatingly adhering to formalism.[11] The court was not convinced that the May 26 press conference was merely an announcement and instead held that it was an appointment, noting that the governor had asserted, in response to the initial petition, that “Governor DeSantis completed his legal duty by appointing Judge Francis . . . to the Florida Supreme Court on May 26, 2020.”[12] The court also criticized the governor because the Florida Constitution’s sixty-day deadline to fill the vacancy expired months prior to when the court stepped in.[13] Moreover, the court acknowledged its penchant for formalism and responded with a quotation from the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who said that “formalism . . . is what makes a government a government of laws and not of men.”[14]

On September 14, 2020, in compliance with the order, Governor DeSantis named Judge Jamie Grosshans to the Florida Supreme Court.[15] Judge Grosshans was serving on Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, where she was appointed in 2018, and she was previously a judge on the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Orange County, Florida.[16]

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[1] Thompson v. DeSantis (Thompson I), No. SC20-985, slip op at 1 (Fla. Aug. 27, 2020), (Thompson II) No. SC20-985, slip op. at 1 (Fla. Sept. 8, 2020) reh’g denied, (Thompson III) SC20-985, slip op (Fla. Sept. 11, 2020) mandamus granted.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 2, 3.

[4] Brief for Respondents at 1, No. SC20-985, (Fla. Aug. 3, 2020). Florida precedent requires the governor to choose from a list of nominees selected by the commission. See Pleus v. Crist, 14 So. 3d 941 (Fla. 2009).

[5] Id.

[6] Fla. Const. art. V, § 8.

[7] Anthony Man & Gray Rohrer, Renatha Francis Withdraws, Hours After Supreme Court Invalidates Her Appointment and Orders DeSantis to Pick a New Justice, Sun Sentinel (Sept. 11, 2020, 3:00 PM),

[8] Thompson I, No. SC20-985, slip op. at 2 (Fla. Aug. 27, 2020).

[9] Id.

[10] Governor’s Response to the Court’s Order to Show Cause Why Petitioner’s Amended Petition Should not be Granted, No. SC20-985, at 10 (Fla. Sept. 9, 2020).

[11] Governor’s Response in Opposition to Motion on Rehearing, No. SC20-985, at 12 (Sept. 4. 2020).

[12] Thompson I, No. SC20-985, slip op. at 1 (Fla. Aug. 27, 2020); Id. at 2 n. 1.

[13] Id. at 2.

[14] Thompson I, No. SC20-985, slip op. at 2 (Fla. Aug. 27, 2020) (quoting Antonin Scalia, A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law 25 (1997).

[15] Florida Supreme Court, (last visited Oct. 18, 2020).

[16] Id.

  • Judicial Election

    Judges are elected by popular vote.
  • Democratic Appointment

    Judges are appointed directly by a democratic body, or appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of some democratic body.