DeSantis prepares to name new Supreme Court justice

Photo of Justice Ricky Polston courtesy:

Ricky Polston, a justice on the Florida Supreme Court, notified Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last week in a letter that he will be stepping down from the state’s highest court.

The resignation of Polston will take effect today, March 31.

The resignation opens the door for DeSantis to choose a replacement following a nomination process. DeSantis will no doubt appoint a conservative justice, but since Polston has consistently sided with conservatives on most matters, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the court’s rulings.

In a majority judgment published in January, Polston rejected a challenge to a state statute that imposes severe fines on local government officials who implement gun control ordinances. Following the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, cities and counties challenged the statute.

This means DeSantis will have the opportunity to continue influencing the seven judges with his upcoming nomination.

DeSantis marked the moment in a Twitter post.

The voters decided last year whether five justices, including 67-year-old Polston, would be allowed to continue serving on the court. Under Florida’s merit retention system, commissions recommend prospective justices to the governor, who then appoints them. Nonetheless, justices must run for re-election every six years.

Four of the present justices — Carlos Muniz, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans and Renatha Francis — were chosen by the Republican governor.

Former Republican governor Charlie Crist appointed Polston, along with Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga. Crist would go on to switch to the Democratic Party, and in 2022 DeSantis crushed Crist by almost 20 points to earn a second term as Florida’s chief executive.

William Berry, a political science professor at Florida State University, acknowledged that it’s not clear if the court will move farther to the right following Polston’s retirement.

“Well, Polston was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 2008 by then-Governor Charlie Crist,” Berry said. “After Polston’s retirement, only Canady and Labarga will remain on the bench.”

“I’m not sure how things will be from now on, since he won’t be on the court, but I hope this was the right decision to make.”

Since being selected by  Crist in 2008, Polston has appeared on the ballot three times. He was re-elected in 2010 with a 66.1% majority, then in 2016 with a 67.8% majority, and once more in 2022 with a 63% majority. Voter approval is required for every justice on the Florida Supreme Court two years into their terms and then every six years after that.

DeSantis’ potential replacement hasn’t been named since Polston’s declaration.