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Florida Supreme Court ruling raises stakes of governor’s election

Scott

In a decision that further raises the stakes of Florida’s gubernatorial election, the state supreme court has ordered that the job of replacing three of its justices belongs not to lame-duck Gov. Rick Scott but to his successor, whomever that might be.

The high court issued a rebuke of Scott Monday, saying the governor “exceeded his authority” when he moved last month to begin the process of naming new Supreme Court justices. Eager to replace a majority of a liberal voting bloc on the court, Scott directed a state nominating commission to submit names for him to fill upcoming vacancies before he’s forced out of office in January by term limits. But he was sued by the League of Women Voters of Florida on the grounds that he couldn’t legally fill vacancies that hadn’t yet occurred.

Scott wanted the names by Nov. 10, four days after voters choose his replacement. Instead, the high court said the ability to appoint new justices falls to the next elected governor.

That means either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum will control the tilt of the 7-member court, potentially swaying a generation of precedent-setting legal opinions on issues like labor, school vouchers, gun rights and healthcare. The decision could spark even further interest from organizations like Emily’s List and the Federalist Society to a race that has already drawn tens of millions in outside spending.

“November’s election already held huge consequences for women and families across Florida,” said Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, which backs pro-choice candidates. “Now, the stakes couldn’t be higher.”

Gillum and DeSantis have both held that the next governor retained the right to appoint replacements for Barbara J. Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince, who are up against age limits and must resign the day that Scott is set to leave office. Gillum issued a statement, saying “one of my top priorities will be to restore integrity to the judicial nominating process.” The DeSantis’ campaign, meanwhile, used the opportunity to blast Gillum.

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