Alan Lawson retiring from FL Supreme Court; balance shouldn’t shift much

By: - April 29, 2022 4:37 pm

The Florida Supreme Court building. Credit: Michael Moline

Justice Alan Lawson has announced his retirement from the Florida Supreme Court, effective on Aug. 31, giving Gov. Ron DeSantis another vacancy to fill on the state’s highest court.

DeSantis used the retirement of three members of the court’s liberal wing at about the time he entered office to shift the court’s balance sharply in a conservative direction. Since Lawson has been a member of the conservative bloc, his departure is unlikely to signal a significant change of direction.

The judicial nominating commission for the Supreme Court will recommend a replacement for appointment by DeSantis.

Justice Alan Lawson. Credit: Florida Supreme Court

Lawson joined the court in 2016, appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott.

“One of the greatest joys of my 35-year legal career has been and continues to be the ability to work alongside a bench and bar filled with extraordinary individuals who work tirelessly to assure that the citizens we serve are well-served by our system of justice,” Lawson wrote in his resignation letter.

“That system is often criticized yet still endures as the best system of justice that the world has ever seen,” he wrote.

“As a principled legal mind who understands the limited role of the judiciary in our republican form of government, Justice Lawson’s dedication to public service, from his time as an assistant county attorney in Orange County through his time on the Supreme Court, has served to protect the rights and liberties of all Floridians,” DeSantis said in a written statement.

“I ran for governor in part because of the importance of the gubernatorial responsibility of shaping our Supreme Court, and I will appoint a successor to Justice Lawson who will uphold our state’s Constitution and interpret the law with the same dedication to the original understanding of the text that Justice Lawson demonstrated throughout his judicial career.”

In practice, that has meant overturning established judicial precedents in criminal justice and other areas.

For example, the new court has issued rulings allowing non-unanimous jury verdicts to impose death sentences; lowering the legal standard for weighing circumstantial evidence; making it easier to execute someone with intellectual disabilities; and imposing tighter standards for determining the admissibility of expert testimony.

Earlier in his career, Lawson served as chief judge of the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeal, a circuit judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Orange and Osceola counties, and as an assistant county attorney for Orange County.

“Julie and I plan to enjoy retirement, prioritizing family, health and fitness, spiritual growth and development, friends, the outdoor sports that we enjoy, and charitable work in the United States and abroad,” Lawson wrote of his and his wife’s future.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.