Trump eyes Cuban American judge from Florida for Supreme Court

John Kennedy and Richard Wolf

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TALLAHASSEE – Federal appeals court Judge Barbara Lagoa of Florida emerged Saturday as a little-known front-runner for President Donald Trump’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination.

As a successor to the late Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Lagoa, 52, would bring lengthy judicial experience in state and federal courts as well as two potential political benefits: She is a Cuban American from a battleground state Trump desperately needs to win in November.

Trump praised Lagoa and another front-runner, appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, in remarks to reporters Saturday. He said he has “heard at length” about Lagoa. “She’s Hispanic and highly respected,” the president also said.

Lagoa was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit only last year after serving briefly on the Florida Supreme Court. But she served for a dozen years on the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal after being appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. There she took part in more than 11,000 cases and wrote more than 470 opinions.

The short list: Front-runner to replace Ginsburg is a favorite of religious conservatives

Lagoa was among 20 people on a list that Trump unveiled earlier this month as possible Supreme Court nominees. She is considered a protégé of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a close Trump ally. In 2019, DeSantis appointed her to the state’s highest court, making her the first Cuban American woman to serve there. 

Lagoa was in the majority last week when the 11th Circuit ruled 6-4 that hundreds of thousands of Florida felons who have served their time cannot vote this fall or in the future unless they pay fees and fines owed to the state.

More: Federal appeals court blocks Florida’s felons from voting until fees and fines are paid

The decision along strict ideological lines, with all five judges appointed by Trump in the majority, could have a major impact on the presidential race because of Florida’s history of razor-thin margins. In 2000, George W. Bush won the White House with a 537-vote victory margin there.

“Florida’s felon re-enfranchisement scheme is constitutional,” Lagoa wrote in a 20-page concurrence. “It falls to the citizens of the state of Florida and their elected state legislators, not to federal judges, to make any additional changes to it.”

A graduate of Florida International University and Columbia University Law School, Lagoa was raised in Hialeah, Fla., the daughter of parents from Cuba. 

“Justice Lagoa’s proven commitment to upholding the rule of law, unparalleled legal career and vast experience on the appellate bench distinguish her among the most qualified individuals to serve on our state’s highest court,” DeSantis said upon selecting her for the state Supreme Court.

Lagoa, who was a registered Republican when selected by DeSantis, is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, which stresses that judges should “say what the law is, not what itshould be.”

Before she become a judge, she had been an attorney with Miami firms, including the nationally prominent Greenberg Traurig. She also was an assistant federal prosecutor.

Trump nominated her for the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September, and she was confirmed by an unusually lopsided 80-15 Senate vote in November. Most of Trump’s nominees win confirmation narrowly.

Contributing: David Jackson


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