Eyeing 11th Circuit Flip, Trump Continues to Reshape Courts

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed a Florida Supreme Court justice to a seat on the 11th Circuit and advanced the nomination of one of his colleagues, bringing President Donald Trump within striking distance of flipping the Atlanta-based appeals court.

The Elbert P. Tuttle U.S. Courthouse in Atlanta, home of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

After a 64-31 vote on Tuesday afternoon, Florida Supreme Court Justice Robert Luck will take a seat on the 11th Circuit that has for nearly 40 years belonged to Judge Gerald Tjoflat.

Tjoflat first took the federal appellate bench in 1975 and was the last judge appointed by President Gerald Ford still serving on the federal bench. Tjoflat was initially appointed to the Fifth Circuit, but was reassigned to the 11th Circuit in 1981 after a new seat was added to the court.

Replacing the 89-year-old will be 40-year-old Luck, who has served on the Florida Supreme Court since January when Republican Governor Ron DeSantis appointed him to the seat. Before that, Luck served as a judge on the Third District Court of Appeal of Florida and on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida.

He also spent time as a federal prosecutor in Miami before taking the bench and twice clerked for Judge Ed Carnes on the 11th Circuit after graduating from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Conservatives in Florida have favorably compared Luck to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. During his confirmation process, Luck expressed support for originalism, the interpretive theory most closely associated with the conservative legal icon.

With the addition of Luck, the 11th Circuit includes six judges appointed by Democratic presidents and six appointed by Republicans, a balance that will likely shift later in the week after Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa cleared a procedural vote in the Senate shortly after Luck’s confirmation.

Lagoa is nominated to replace Judge Stanley Marcus, who was appointed to the court by President Bill Clinton in 1997. Luck and Lagoa are both named as contributors to the Federalist Society, the conservative group that has had a hand in picking several of Trump’s judicial nominees.

The procedural vote signals Lagoa is likely to be confirmed later this week, which would mark the second time Trump has flipped a federal appeals court in the last week. The Second Circuit flipped to a Republican-appointed majority last Thursday after the Senate narrowly confirmed Steven Menashi to the court.

The shift in the court’s makeup is significant because it makes it more likely Republican appointees will make up the panels of three judges that hear most appeals.

Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott, who twice appointed Luck to seats on the Florida state courts while serving as governor, praised the nominations that will reshape the makeup of the 11th Circuit.

“They’re just people that – they’re going to enforce the law,” Scott told Courthouse News. “They understand there’s three branches of government so I think they’re going to do the right thing.”

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