MIAMI — With the first of his three picks for the Florida Supreme Court, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday chose a female Cuban-American appellate judge to become the state's newest justice.
Barbara Lagoa, for the past 12 years a judge on the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami, was introduced by DeSantis at an event at Miami's Freedom Tower. The site is highly symbolic for Cuban-Americans because so many immigrants who fled the communist reign of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were processed into the U.S. through that building.
"In the country my parents fled, the whim of a single individual could mean the difference between food and hunger, liberty or prison, life or death," Lagoa said. "Unlike the country my parents fled, we are a nation of laws."
DeSantis, who just took office on Tuesday, said Lagoa, 51, has an impeccable judicial background and that her Cuban-American upbringing gives her extra appreciation for the rule of law. He noted that she has considered more than 11,000 cases and written 470 legal opinions.
"She has been the essence of what a judge should be" the governor said. "She understands the rule of law, how important that is to a society."
Lagoa, who grew up in the heavily Cuban-American suburb of Hialeah, attended Florida International University and Columbia University law school where she was associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. She also is a former federal prosecutor in Miami. Her father-in-law is Miami senior U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck and her husband, Paul C. Huck Jr., is a prominent Miami attorney.
DeSantis said Lagoa is the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Supreme Court, but former Chief Justice Rosemary Barkett was born in Mexico to Syrian parents and spoke only Spanish until moving to the U.S.
"I couldn't be more honored to appoint you," the governor told Lagoa as her parents, husband, in-laws and three daughters looked on.
Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said in a statement he is confident that Lagoa will fit the judicial temperament that DeSantis laid out in his inaugural address, which called for a more limited role for the Supreme Court.
"I share the governor's concern that in recent years the power of the judicial branch has extended beyond its limited constitutional responsibility, in many cases eroding the authority of the legislative branch," Galvano said. "I believe democracy is at its best when each branch of government exercises both authority and restraint at the appropriate time."
New GOP U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Florida's governor the past eight years, called Lagoa a "fantastic choice" who has had a "stellar legal career."
"I know she will be a strong voice for years to come," Scott said in a statement.
DeSantis has two other Supreme Court picks due to mandatory retirements and is widely expected to tilt the court toward a more conservative philosophy.
Associated Press writer Curt Anderson contributed to this story from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.