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League Of Women Voters Files Case On Midnight Supreme Court Appointments

Florida Supreme Court
Nick Evans

The Florida League of Women Voters is asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on a decades-old legal dispute: when a justice’s term ends at the same time as the sitting governor, who appoints a replacement? 

The League wants to settle the question before January 2019 – when the terms of three Supreme Court justices and Governor Rick Scott - expire. And this isn’t the first time Florida has seen this dispute between outgoing and incoming executives. Two governors have held midnight swearing in ceremonies in the hopes of preventing a last minute appointment. Scott has said he has the right to name replacements on his way out the door. But attorney Dan Stengle disagrees. He served as general counsel to Governor Lawton Chiles, who faced the same question.

“These three outgoing justices, unless they were to resign early and I doubt they would, their vacancies don’t occur until after Governor Scott’s term is over. And there isn’t any question about that,”Stengle said.

According to the Florida Constitution, the justices' terms end on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January, following a general election. That's the same day the new governor would take office. Stengle says Scott cannot make a prospective appointment for a vacancy that doesn't exist until after he's out of office.    

“The vacancy occurs at the same time the governor’s term ends. And so when that vacancy occurs triggering the appointment power, it will be a new governor, not the current governor,” Stengle said.

Lawyers on the case argue the new governor takes office the second the previous term expires, regardless of when a swearing in ceremony is held.

As a Tallahassee native, Kate Payne grew up listening to WFSU. She loves being part of a station that had such an impact on her. Kate is a graduate of the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. With a background in documentary and narrative filmmaking, Kate has a broad range of multimedia experience. When she’s not working, you can find her rock climbing, cooking or hanging out with her cat.