Six federalists, including Renatha Francis, in contention for FL Supreme Court seat

DeSantis could finally place a Black woman conservative on the bench

By: - June 14, 2022 7:00 am

The Florida Supreme Court building. Credit: Michael Moline

Renatha Francis, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ failed Florida Supreme Court appointment two years ago, has made the shortlist for a new vacancy on the state’s highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission released the names of six finalists on Monday. Francis, an immigrant from Jamaica, is the only Black person listed and would be the only Black on the court if appointed.

All six nominees are affiliated with the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy, the conservative-to-libertarian group that grooms young attorneys for places in the conservative legal movement, including bench appointments. DeSantis, himself, has been affiliated with the group.

Of the six finalists, four are women.

Here’s a summary of the candidates, based on applications they’ve filed with the JNC:

Renatha Francis

Renatha Francis accepts her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court on May 26, 2020, but never took the seat. Credit: Screenshot

Francis is a trial judge in Palm Beach County, working on family and probate cases. She  earned a law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She worked as a staff attorney and clerk with the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee, then at the politically connected Shutts & Bowen law firm, according to her application.

In response to a question about what “particular contribution you believe your selection would bring to this position,” Francis wrote:

“Respect for separation of powers. This protects individual liberty. A judge’s role is a limited one: to interpret and apply the law as written, and not as she thinks it should be written. Statutory textualism best preserves our republican form of government by deferring law-making responsibility to the democratically accountable branches of government. It also thwarts potential end-runs on the democratic process caused by judges who try to legislate from the bench.

Denise Mayo Harle

Harle is director and senior counsel of the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Center for Life, which describes itself as “an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.”

Between June 2015 and October 2017, she was deputy solicitor general in the Florida Office of the Attorney General. Earlier, she was an associate for four years in the Los Angeles office of Greenberg Traurig and spent two years as a law clerk to Florida Supreme Court Justice Rick Polson.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in social science and psychology, a master’s degree in political science from Stanford University, and a J.D. from Duke University School of Law.

Harle disclosed pleading no contest to DWI 15 years ago.

“It was the summer after my first year of law school, and I made the terrible mistake one night of leaving a bar and driving one mile to the apartment where I was staying,” she wrote on her application.

“An officer saw me walk out of the bar and to my car, and immediately pulled me over on the correct hunch that I had been drinking. It was obviously a very bad choice by me — one I deeply regret — and a wake-up call. I’ve never repeated the mistake, and alcohol is virtually nonexistent in my life.”

Harle cited her experience as a trial and appellate litigator in torts, contracts, consumer protection, class action, financial services, intellectual property, labor and employment, and real estate law.

“None of my legal practice over the past several years has been routine or mundane. Instead, it resembles the nature of cases coming before the Florida Supreme Court, which must be thought through from the beginning and require grappling with fresh issues,” she wrote.

Robert Long Jr.

Judge Robert Long Jr. of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. Credit: First DCA

Long has served on the First District Court of Appeal, the influential mid-level appellate court in Tallahassee, since 2020 (appointed by DeSantis). Before that, he served for four years as a state trial judge in Leon County; as general counsel to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office; associate in the Rumberger Kirk law firm; and in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps (serving in Afghanistan).

Long holds a business degree from Florida State University and a J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law (where he was president of the Federalist Society chapter).

“I have spent the last 21 years of my life working through the great breadth of our justice system,” Long wrote.

“My experience is not confined to one or two areas of the law and includes years of labor in the very real daily work of those asked to breathe life into the opinions written by our appellate courts. This diversity of experience will be a great asset on the court. Putting a wide variety of experience on the court is important to maintaining a thoughtful and skilled judiciary.”

Anne-Lee Gaylord Moe

Moe has been a state trial judge in Tampa since 2017. Before that, she spent 10 years as a shareholder in the Bush Ross law firm. She clerked for U.S. District Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington in Fort Myers. She summer interned with former Justice Kenneth Bell of the Florida Supreme Court in 2002.

She holds a B.A. from Furman University and a J.D. from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

“I respect the enduring genius of the American system of government. The people of the United States decided what laws would apply to them, established a government to effect their will, conceived of checks and balances between the separate branches, and — because of their mistrust of government — established a constitution that binds the government against unwelcome intrusion into their lives,” she wrote.

Meredith Sasso

Meredith Sasso. Credit: Fifth DCA

Sasso has served on Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal since 2019 (appointed by DeSantis). Before that, she was deputy and chief deputy counsel in the Executive Office of the Governor under Rick Scott. She also worked as a litigator in a number of law firms in Central Florida in business dissolution, workers’ compensation, insurance, and banking disputes. She served an internship with the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office.

Sasso holds a joint degree on political science and public relations from the University of Florida and a J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Her grandfather fled Cuba in 1953 to move to New York; her grandmother and father joined him and the family moved to Hialeah and then Tallahassee.

“Stories like those of my grandfather’s drive me. I am constantly mindful that the liberty we enjoy exists because of real people’s incredible sacrifices. And I am resolutely committed to fulfilling my judicial role in the manner for which it was intended: as an integral part of the structure of government created expressly to secure liberty for ourselves and our posterity,” Sasso wrote.

A.S. Tanenbaum

Judge A.S. Tanenbaum of Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. Credit: First DCA

Adam Scott Tanenbaum serves on the First District Court of Appeal, appointed by DeSantis in 2019.

He has held roughly 22 jobs since graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1996, beginning with a clerkship with U.S. District Judge Stanley Marcus in Miami; law firms including Carlton Fields, Kay Scholer, and a solo practice; and political and government work for the Republican Party of Florida, state and federal public defenders, the state departments of Legal Affairs and State, and the Florida House of Representatives, where he was chief in-house lawyer between 2016 and his elevation to the bench.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.

“I would bring a deep-seated, long-standing commitment to ‘original meaning’ as a judicial philosophy in the faithful adherence to constitutional and statutory text while deciding cases. I also would bring a non-expansive approach to deciding cases and would seek to limit adjudication of a case, as much as possible, to the facts that are in the record before the court,” Tanenbaum wrote.

“Moreover, my work as an appellate judge already has demonstrated my deep commitment to understanding the historical origins of legal principles. That commitment (which includes a willingness to put in the hard work to uncover those origins) helps support my efforts to ensure that our decisions remain true to the rule of law.”

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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.