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Ron DeSantis as Legal Reformer and Theorist
Writing in the New York Review of Books Duncan Hosie makes the case that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ politics took shape in law school through his participation in the conservative legal movement.
He paints an interesting picture of a politician profoundly interested in law as well as both national and local courts:
The Florida constitution’s mandatory retirement rule forced Lewis and two other liberals off the Court just as DeSantis took office. DeSantis saw the chance to create not just a conservative court but a subservient one. “This was an important opportunity for our state to improve its judiciary, but, more immediately, reduced a roadblock to getting my legislative agenda to ‘stick,’” DeSantis writes about the vacancies in his new book, The Courage To Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival. “With three new appointments that I hoped would judge in the mold of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” he adds, “the newly constituted, conservative court” could now be trusted to validate “conservative policy enacted by the legislature.”
Although the essay is often heavy handed and caricatures the conservative legal movement its most interesting reporting occurs when that narrative is complicated:
In the interview with Hewitt last summer, DeSantis trotted out the standard talking point that his appointees to the Florida Supreme Court opposed “judicial activism.” But then he let the mask slip. “Sometimes, Hugh, you’re called upon to enforce the Constitution in ways that’ll be consequential. And that’s not activism if that’s the proper interpretation of the Constitution,” he said. “I think some people on the conservative side are just judicial minimalists where they don’t ever want to do anything, and they just defer.” Deference—once the lodestar of conservative judges—is a bête noire to DeSantis. In its place is the very form of judicial activism he claims to abhor, a militant conservatism that relies on judges to achieve consequential victories unreachable in electoral politics.
DeSantis has shaped Florida’s courts with Federalist Society appointees, but he also hopes his appointees will shape the Federalist Society in turn. Commentators on the left often speak about the Federalist Society as a monolith, overlooking that it includes factions with different agendas, strategies, and levels of influence. DeSantis understands that the Federalist Society is a coalitional organization, and he has waded into debates among its blocs. He has reserved some of his harshest criticisms for those within the group who don’t share his revolutionary ardor.
Interesting essay about much more than its title, ‘How DeSantis Packed the Florida Supreme Court’, suggests. Recommended!
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