TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Florida State University College of Law alumnus C. Alan Lawson as the 86th justice to the Florida Supreme Court.
Lawson, a conservative and former judge of Florida's 5th District Court of Appeal, fills a seat of the seven-member court. The former circuit judge replaces Justice James E.C. Perry, the fourth African-American jurist to serve on Florida’s high court. Perry retired because of a constitutional requirement that forces judges to leave at the end of their term after they turn 70.
The Miami Herald reported that the retirement of Perry has given Scott his first chance to alter the Florida Supreme Court. Prior to Perry’s retirement, he formed part of the liberal majority of the court, which has frequently seen 5-2 votes in several crucial cases, the Orlando Sentinel reported. One such case involves statutes placing caps on attorney’s fees in workers compensation disputes.
While Lawson’s appointment adds to the court’s conservative minority, it’s not expected to do much in the conservative favor. As the Miami Herald reported in a separate account, the other conservative members are Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, while the remaining justices — Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga — are considered moderates.
Scott could still produce a conservative majority on the court. Florida Politics stated that Pariente, Quince and Lewis face mandatory retirement in 2019, providing an opportunity for Scott to introduce three more conservative high-court replacements before he leaves office that January.
Lawson previously attempted to join the court in 2009, when he applied to the court for two openings. While he was recommended, he was passed over by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who appointed Perry in March 2009 because of the retirement of Justice Charles T. Wells, as Florida Politics stated.
According to the Florida State University News, the university is now the only one with two law school graduates on the Florida Supreme Court. Lawson joins fellow FSU alumnus Polston on the court.
Prior to Scott’s decision, there were also two other shortlisted replacements for the outgoing Perry. These were Appellate Judge Wendy Berger, also of the 5th District Court of Appeal, and Dan Gerber, an Orlando civil-trial defense lawyer, according to Florida Today.
Lawson received a Bachelor of Science from Clemson University in 1983 and a Juris Doctor from FSU in 1987. Upon graduating from the Florida State University College of Law, Lawson worked in the private sector before becoming the assistant county attorney for the Orange County Attorney’s Office in 1997.
In 2002, he was appointed to a circuit judgeship in the 9th Judicial Circuit until 2005, when he was appointed to a district judgeship in the 5th District Court of Appeal by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. In 2015, he was elected chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal.