Equality Florida in the News: Crist in Fix Over Supreme Appointment

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Posted on February 25, 2009 - 9:10am by Anonymous.

"Meanwhile, the prominent gay rights group Equality Florida sounded its own warning to its members: "The ultra right-wing American Family Association has begun to rally around Judge Alan Lawson ... flooding the governor's office with calls, faxes, and e-mails. We cannot let the American Family Association decide the make-up of the Florida Supreme Court!"


Crist In A Fix Over State Court Post
By WILLIAM MARCH [email protected]

The Tampa Tribune

In the next week or so, Gov. Charlie Crist faces one of the toughest political decisions of his tenure as governor: A Supreme Court appointment that pits conservatives in his own party against a minority community Crist is courting.

Religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association are backing Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal, calling him the most qualified of the four candidates presented to Crist.

On the other hand, some liberal groups and black activists - including state NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze, whom Crist recently named as his minority affairs adviser - are ardently backing Seminole County-based Circuit Judge James E.C. Perry.

If Perry is chosen, he would be the second black justice on the seven-member state Supreme Court.

Both sides have lobbied Crist, and he has strong political reasons for not wanting to alienate either side.

Crist has proclaimed his intent to make racially diverse judicial appointments, and he wants black and minority support if he runs for the U.S. Senate next year.

At the same time, his relations with the conservative base of the Republican Party are badly strained, partly because of his backing of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan. An appointment conservatives don't like would only worsen that.

University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson summed up Crist's dilemma: "Given his background, you would expect him to appoint an African-American," Paulson said. "Part of his success has been reaching out to African-Americans.

"But given the political situation, you might expect him to use the appointment to heal the wounds with the conservatives."

Crist has named three Supreme Court justices, two of them highly conservative: former Congressman Charles Canady of Lakeland and former appellate Judge Ricky Polston of Graceville.

Given Crist's overall moderate politics, Paulson said, those appointments appeared designed to placate the political right.

Crist chose his third appointee, Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga, after demanding that the nominating committees that choose nominees provide him more racially diverse choices.

Labarga, a Cuban emigre and former public defender, was originally appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. In choosing Labarga, Crist passed over former Jeb Bush administration official Frank Jimenez, which disappointed some conservatives.

'Diversity Is Very Important'

The next appointment could be Crist's last chance for a black appointee: No more justices are nearing retirement age.

Besides Perry and Lawson, the other two nominees for the appointment are Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson of Sanford and Orlando lawyer Daniel J. Gerber, known for defending chemical manufacturers against allegations of toxic exposure.

Perry is a registered Democrat but is a Jeb Bush appointee, as are Lawson and Nelson.

Crist will interview all four today and may name his appointee this week.

Asked Tuesday how important it is to him that one of his appointees be black, Crist said, "The overriding concern is always that you have people that are honest, that are ethical, that are intelligent, that are compassionate ... and have humility. But obviously diversity is very important to me and that's why I sent some of those nominees back, so I'll be looking at that very closely."

Betting in political circles centers on Lawson and Perry but choosing either likely would anger supporters of the other. Each side argues for its candidate partly by pointing to its political enemies' support of the other candidate.

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