ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A Black Democratic state lawmaker who is challenging the appointment of a Black woman to the Florida Supreme Court contended Thursday that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is engaging in “racial tokenism” by choosing someone the court itself has already ruled is not eligible for the position.
State Rep. Geraldine Thompson said in an online news conference that DeSantis only chose Renatha Francis for the high court because she shares his conservative ideology, not because he is trying to achieve racial diversity.
Thompson says Francis doesn’t meet the constitutional requirement of being a Florida Bar member for at least 10 years, a point the Supreme Court noted two weeks ago when it ruled DeSantis had exceeded his authority by appointing an ineligible candidate. The court did not undo the appointment, however.
“He wants to throw the rulebook out the window and do whatever he wants to do,” Thompson said. “That’s not what our country is supposed to be about.”
Thompson wants the governor to rescind the appointment. She spoke a day after DeSantis defended his choice at an event Wednesday alongside several Black elected officials who support Francis' appointment. The governor appointed Francis in May with the understanding that she would not actually sit on the court until she is eligible. She will complete 10 years in the bar in two weeks.
DeSantis accused Thompson of blocking the appointment for political reasons. He noted that no other Blacks currently serve on the court.
But Thompson argued that DeSantis only wanted the “right" Black person on the court. “It was clearly about ideology and sharing the same perspective he had," she said. “This is one of the worst and most egregious examples of racial tokenism that I have seen in my life.”
Francis, currently a circuit judge in Palm Beach County, would not be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court but would be the first Caribbean-American to do so. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult and working her way through law school.
Thompson represents portions of the Orlando suburbs, including Disney World and Universal Studios.
At the event Wednesday, DeSantis accused Thompson of hypocrisy, saying that she had been among those pushing for a Black justice and now that he has appointed one, she doesn't like her. He said her opposition would force him to choose from a list that includes no Black candidates. Thompson countered that a governor can't simply ignore the Florida Constitution.
“We're not appointing a prom queen here,” she said. “We are appointing a justice of the Florida Supreme Court.”
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Curt Anderson, The Associated Press