Conservative 5th District Court of Appeal Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson -- described in the most admiring of terms as "Justice Antonin Scalia meets Mother Teresa" -- is today Florida's newest Supreme Court justice.
Lawson is Gov. Rick Scott's first high court appointment in seven years as governor. Making the Friday morning announcement from his office at the Capitol with Lawson, his wife Julie and their son Caleb at his side, Scott said, "Judge Lawson has a 20-year track record ... he follows follows the rule of law ... he's already serving with honor, builds good relationships. He's not going to legislate from the bench."
Lawson, before taking reporters' questions, said simply, "This obviously is a great honor and a privilege. ..."
Scott chose Lawson, 54, over two other conservative finalists, appellate Judge Wendy Berger and Orlando lawyer Dan Gerber.
"Today Gov. Scott sealed his legacy of appointing high quality judicial conservatives to the courts," said Jason Gonzalez, Florida co-chair of the Federist Society and the governor's general counsel for the last four Supreme Court appointments.
"Judge Lawson is not only a brilliant jurist, he is one of the most decent men ever appointed to the Court," Gonzalez continued. "He and his wife Julie have sacrificed for many years to serve as missionaries in Honduras and have changed the lives of children with serious medical conditions. I was overcome with joy when I heard the news of Judge Lawson's appointment. I would describe him as 'Justice Antonin Scalia meets Mother Teresa.'"
Lawson's conservative judicial philosophy is a stark contrast to the justice he is replacing. Justice James E.C. Perry, who will leave the court at the end of the year because he has reached mandatory retirement age, is one of five Supreme Court justices who constitute a liberal-leaning majority that has repeatedly incurred the wrath of Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature.
Scott was required to choose a justice from a sprawling region covered by the Daytona Beach-based 5th District Court of Appeal. The region stretches across the state from Brevard to Citrus and includes Orange, Volusia, Marion and St. Johns counties.
Lawson, a Lakeland native and 1987 Florida State University law school graduate with highest honors, served three years as a circuit judge before Gov. Jeb Bush in 2006 appointed him to the appeals court. In 2009 under Gov. Charlie Crist he was a finalist for the Supreme Court appointment Perry ultimately won.
It was, apparently, a narrow and difficult decision for Crist. Said the Tampa Tribune at the time: "Religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association are backing 5th District Appeals Court Judge C. Alan Lawson, calling him the most qualified of the four candidates presented to Crist. But some liberal groups and black leaders -- including state NAACP President Adora Obi Nweze, whom Crist recently named as his minority affairs adviser -- are ardently backing Seminole County Circuit Judge James E.C. Perry."
Scott has said he generally tries to populate the state judiciary with judges who "make sure they remember they're the judiciary" and demonstrate deference to laws created by the state's elected representatives. The governor says he has generally heard positive feedback about his judicial appointments from businesses and others who interact with the courts.
"I think what people are saying is, they feel comfortable that whatever judge they go to, they're going to get the same interpretation and enforcement. Which," he believes, "is really what people want. They want whatever the Legislature passes and the governor signs ... to be enforced."
Lawson is apparently a dedicated and proud runner. On his resume he lists among his civic activities, "2008 Boston Marathon Qualifier and Finisher."
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith
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