Judge Allen Winsor – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida

A state appellate judge and former solicitor general, Judge Allen Winsor brings extensive legal experience to the bench.  However, he also brings a long record in hot-button cases.

Background

A native Floridian, Allen Cothrell Winsor was born in Orlando in 1976.  Winsor graduated from Auburn University in 1997 and worked in two years as a Solution Sales Specialist in Rockville, Maryland.[1]  In 1999, Winsor returned to Florida to attend law school at the University of Florida, receiving a J.D. in 2002.[2]

After graduating, Winsor clerked for Judge Ed Carnes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  He then joined the Atlanta office of King & Spalding as an Associate (that office has produced two other Trump judges).  In 2005, Winsor moved to Tallahassee to be an Associate at GrayRobinson PA.[3]  He became a Shareholder at the firm in 2008.[4]

In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi chose Winsor to be Florida Solicitor General.  He served in this capacity for the next three years, until being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to Florida’s First District Court of Appeal.[5]  He continues to serve on that court.

History of the Seat

The seat Ray has been nominated for opened on November 7, 2016, with Judge Robert Hinkle’s move to senior status.  Florida Senators Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, continued the use of a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to solicit recommendations for vacancies.  The JNC recommended Winsor for the Northern District alongside three other candidates on November 16, 2017.[6]  After interviews with Nelson, Rubio and the White House, Winsor was nominated for the vacancy on April 10, 2010.[7]

Private Practice

Before he became Florida Solicitor General, Winsor spent ten years in private practice working at King & Spalding and GrayRobinson.  At these firms, Winsor’s specialty was in election law and he frequently worked with Republican lawmakers in defending election regulations.

Election Regulation

While at GrayRobinson, Winsor frequently represented Florida’s Secretary of State in defending Florida’s election regulations.  For example, Winsor successfully defended Florida’s registration deadline set 29 days before the election.[8]  He also successfully defended a provision that matched voter applications against drivers license registries and other databases (the provision was challenged by the NAACP).[9]  Winsor also defended bans on electioneering near polling places,[10] and restrictions on third party voter registration organizations.[11]

Redistricting

In 2012, Winsor was part of the legal team challenging the Fair Districts Initiative (a citizen ballot initiative that restricted gerrymandering in Florida).[12]  Winsor, representing the Florida House of Representatives, joined other attorneys in arguing that the Initiative violated the Constitution’s Elections Clause.[13]  The Eleventh Circuit upheld the Initiative.[14]

Winsor also represented the Florida House of Representatives in defending the redistricting maps drawn before the Florida Supreme Court.[15]

Solicitor General

From 2013 to his appointment as a judge in 2016, Winsor served as the Solicitor General of Florida, serving as the primary appellate attorney for the state.  In this role, Winsor has participated in many high-profile cases.

Dealth Penalty – Sentencing

Until 2016, Florida permitted judges to make the requisite factual findings to impose the death penalty, even if a jury recommended otherwise.  In Hurst v. Florida, Winsor defended this sentencing scheme before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that no judge had overruled a jury’s recommendation not to impose death since 1999.[16]  The Supreme Court rejected the scheme in a 8-1 opinion authored by Justice Sotomayor, finding that it violated the Sixth Amendment.[17]

Death Penalty – Intellectual Capacity

Winsor was also charged with defending Florida’s bright-line intellectual capacity rule before the Supreme Court.  Florida barred inmates subject to the death penalty from claiming lack of intellectual capacity where their IQ scores were above 70.[18]  Winsor again came up short in the case, as the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down the bright-line rule.[19]

Gay Marriage

Winsor also defended Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.  The Solicitor General’s Office drew criticism during the defense for stating in a brief that overturning Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage would “impose significant public harm.”[20]  While the statement went viral and drew significant criticism, Winsor responded that the statement was taken out of context.[21]  He stated:

“Florida is harmed whenever a federal court enjoins enforcement of its laws, including the laws at issue here.”[22]

Docs v. Glocks

Winsor was charged with defending Florida’s “Docs v. Glocks” law, which prevents physicians from discussing gun ownership with their patients.[23]  At oral argument, Winsor argued that, as the law instructed physicians to “refrain” from the discussions, the law merely offered a recommendation rather than a prohibition.[24] The law was ultimately struck down by the Eleventh Circuit.[25]

Medical Marijuana

In 2015, Winsor represented the State of Florida in challenging a ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.[26]  Winsor argued that the Amendment’s language was too broad, and that it would permit individuals with minor injuries to receive medical marijuana.[27]  The Florida Supreme Court, however, unanimously approved the Amendment’s language.[28]  The Amendment was approved by 71% of voters in 2016.

Jurisprudence

Winsor has served as an appellate judge on Florida’s First District Court of Appeals for the last two years.  In his two years on the bench, Winsor has heard over 1300 cases.[29]  During this tenure, none of Winsor’s opinions were reversed by a higher court.

The vast majority of appeals that Winsor has heard have been criminal in nature, and Winsor has voted to uphold the underlying convictions in most of those appeals.  In a few, however, Winsor has voted in favor of the defendant.  In one case, Winsor reversed a father’s conviction for sexually assaulting his daughter, noting that the prosecution had failed to timely disclose expert evidence that they offered at trial.[30]  In another case, a divided panel affirmed the defendant’s conviction for sexual battery on a child, finding that admitting child hearsay did not violate the defendant’s rights.[31]  Winsor dissented, arguing that the evidence was improperly admitted and that the defendant was entitled to a new trial.[32]

Writings

In 2012, Winsor authored an article that was critical of the Florida Supreme Court decision in Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, Inc. v. Browning, and specifically criticized the ruling on “implied pre-emption.”[33]  In the article, Winsor criticizes the Supreme Court for failing to find that a voter initiative regulating Sarasota County’s elections and voting was pre-empted by Florida state law.[34]  Among his criticisms, Winsor suggests that the Supreme Court “understated the public-policy considerations” noting that:

“…differing local treatment of votes can have disastrous effects, as evidenced in 2000.”[35]

As such, Winsor urged the Florida legislature to pass statements in election codes expressly pre-empting local regulation of vote-counting.[36]

Overall Assessment

Despite his relative youth, Winsor has managed to rack up an impressive array of accomplishments.  Having experience both as an attorney and as a judge, Winsor is qualified for a federal judgeship.  That being said, Winsor may draw questions regarding his defense of conservative laws and his challenge to the medical marijuana amendment as Florida Solicitor General.  He may also draw opposition based on his defense of voting restrictions and his opposition to gerrymandering reform as a private practice attorney.

Overall, Winsor’s support from Rubio and Nelson, as well as his relatively uncontroversial tenure on the bench should help his confirmation along.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Allen C. Winsor: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 3.

[2] Id. at 1.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id. 

[5] Julie Kanner, Career Track, Florida Times-Union, Feb. 9, 2016.

[6] Alex Leary, Finalists Named for Federal Bench in Northern District of Florida, The Buzz, Nov. 16, 2017, http://www.tbo.com/florida-politics/buzz/2017/11/16/finalists-named-for-federal-bench-in-northern-district-of-florida/.  

[7] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Twelfth Wave of Judicial Nominees, Twelfth Wave of United States Attorneys, and Sixth Wave of United States Marshalls (April 10, 2018) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[8] Diaz v. Cobb, 541 F. Supp. 2d 1319 (S.D. Fla. 2008).

[9] Florida State Conference of NAACP v. Browning, 522 F.3d 1153 (11th Cir. 2008).

[10] Citizens for Police Accountability Political Comm. v. Browning, 581 F. Supp. 2d 1164 (M.D. Fla. 2008); 572 F.3d 1213 (11th Cir. 2009).

[11] League of Women Voters v. Browning, 575 F. Supp. 2d 1298 (S.D. Fla. 2008).

[12] Brown v. Secretary of State of Florida, 668 F.3d 1271 (11th Cir. 2012).

[13] Id.

[14] Id. at 1273.

[15] In re Senate Joint Resolution of Legislative Apportionment 1176, 83 So. 3d 597 (Fla. 2012).

[16] Robert Barnes, Supreme Court Hears Criminal Justice Cases, Wash. Post, Oct. 14, 2015.

[17] Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016)

[18] Mark Sherman, Court Skeptical of IQ Scores in Deciding Execution, Bismarck Tribune, Mar. 4, 2014.

[19] Hall v. Florida, 572 U.S. __ (2014).

[20] John Woodrow Cox, Public Harm and Gay Marriage, Tampa Bay Times, May 31, 2014.

[21] Id. 

[22] Id. (quoting Allen Winsor).

[23] Curt Anderson, US Court Hears Appeal in Docs vs. Guns Case, New Zealand Herald, July 19, 2013.

[24] See id.

[25] Wollschlaeger v. Governor of Florida, No. 1:11-cv-22026-MGC (11th Cir. 2017) (en banc).

[26] Matt Dixon, Marijuana Sides Argue Before State High Court; Debate Was About a Proposed Constitutional Amendment’s Wording, Florida Times-Union, Dec. 6, 2013.

[27] See id.

[28] Dan Sweeney, Medical Marijuana Proposal Moves Closer to Ballot, Sun-Sentinel, Dec. 17, 2015, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/florida/fl-medical-marijuana-supreme-court-approval-20151217-story.html.  

[29] See Winsor, supra n. 1 at 9.

[30] See Millette v. State, 223 So. 3d 466 (Fla. 1st DACA 2017).

[31] See Cabrera v. State, 206 So. 3d 768 (Fla. 1st DACA 2016).

[32] See id. (Winsor, J., dissenting).

[33] Allen Winsor, Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, Inc. v. Browning: The Implied End to Implied Pre-Emption, 41 Stetson L. Rev. 499 (Winter 2012).

[34] Id. at 507.

[35] Id. at 508.

[36] See id. at 515.

[37] See, e.g., I.A. Group, Ltd. Co. et al. v. RmNandco, Inc., 784 S.E.2d 823 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’g judgment to plaintiff); Moore-Waters et al. v. Met-Test, LLC., 782 S.E.2d 848 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’ing grant of default judgment to plaintiff); Martin et al. v. Hansen, 755 S.E.2d 892 (Ga. App. 2014) (rev’ing denial of summary judgment to defendant); Askew et al. v. Rogers, 755 S.E.2d 836 (Ga. App. 2014) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to plaintiff); Security Real Estate Servs. Inc. v. First Bank of Dalton, 752 S.E.2d 127 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing denial of summary judgment to defendant).

[38] See, e.g., Teston et al. v. Southcore Constr. Inc., 783 S.E.2d 921 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’ing grant of default judgment to defendant); Gomez v. Innocent et al., 746 S.E.2d 645 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to defendant); Deberry v. Johnson et al., 747 S.E.2d 886 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to defendant).

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Andrew Brasher – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama | The Vetting Room

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