Justice Robert Luck – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Trump has frequently elevated justices on state supreme courts to the federal bench.  However, Florida Supreme Court Justice Robert Luck is unique in the swiftness of his elevation as he has barely served six months before being nominated for the Eleventh Circuit.

Background

Robert Joshua Luck was born in South Miami on March 17, 1979.  After getting a B.A. with Highest Honors from the University of Florida, Luck spent a year as a Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. Senate.[1]  He then joined the University of Florida Levin College of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 2004.  After graduating, Luck clerked for the very conservative Judge Ed Carnes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and went on to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

In 2013, Governor Rick Scott named Luck to be a Judge on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Florida.  In 2017, he was elevated to the Third District Court of Appeal.  In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Luck to the Florida Supreme Court, replacing Justice Barbara Pariente.  Luck now serves on the Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Luck was tapped for a Florida seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, who is the longest serving active judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, having served since 1976.  Notably, Luck was nominated only months after he joined the Florida Supreme Court.

Legal Experience

Luck’s primary experience before he became a judge is as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  In his five years with the office, Luck tried nineteen cases to a jury.[2]

Among his trials, Luck prosecuted Rene De Los Rios, a doctor who fraudulently billed Medicare by around $50 million, resulting in a conviction and a twenty year sentence.[3]  Luck also prosecuted Crecencio Hernandez, who attempted to smuggle foreign nationals into the United States when his boat capsized, killing six people.[4]  He also prosecuted Juan Carlos Rodriguez who operated MDN Financial, a Ponzi scheme that cost many clients their life’s savings.[5]

Jurisprudence

Even though he is only forty, Luck has already served on three levels of Florida courts, the Circuit Court; the Court of Appeals; and the Florida Supreme Court.  His jurisprudence at all three reflects a conservative judicial philosophy, albeit one that does lead to some independent decisions.

Trial Court

In 2013, Luck was appointed to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Florida, where he served until 2017.  On that court, Luck sat in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions, overseeing felony cases and civil cases with over $15,000 in controversy.  All in all, Luck presided over approximately 300 cases.  Among these was that of Ricardo Garganelly, who attacked Luck during his competency hearing.[6]  Luck subsequently recused himself from Garganelly’s case.[7]

Court of Appeals

In 2017, Luck was appointed to the Court of Appeal of Florida for the Third District, where he served until his appointment to the Florida Supreme Court.  In this role, Luck served as an intermediate appellate judge.  As a judge, Luck wrote for the court in rejecting a lawsuit alleging that Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Carrollo was ineligible to hold office.[8]  In another decision, Luck held that a charge for defamation couldn’t stand against the Diocese of Palm Beach because litigating such a dispute would entangle the court in ecclisiastical affairs.[9]

Florida Supreme Court

Since his appointment in 2019, Luck has served on the Florida Supreme Court where he has been one of seven justices who has served as the final voice on Florida law.  Luck’s appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, alongside that of Justices Barbara Lagoa and Carlos Muniz, flipped the Court to a conservative majority, and led to a flurry of reversals on the court, where the new majority overturned decisions made by the previous liberal majority.[10]

For example, in one case, Luck joined 6-1 majorities in reversing two 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decisions: one that upheld Orange County election code that allowed officials to be elected in nonpartisan elections; and one that handled attorney-fee disputes in a foreclosure battle.[11]  The reversals could suggest that Luck would be willing to revisit and overturn precedent without feeling bound by stare decisis.

However, in a different case, as the new majority reversed another 4-3 Florida Supreme Court ruling, allowing Florida legislative standards for expert witnesses to be entered, Luck joined Judge Jorge Labarga (the lone liberal on the court) in dissent.[12]

Overall Assessment

While Luck’s record is that of a judicial conservative, it displays signs of a more independent bent.  For example, Luck was the only one of the Florida Supreme Court conservatives to dissent as the court overturned prior precedent to uphold legislative restrictions on expert testimony.  As such, while Luck would no doubt maintain a conservative bent on the Eleventh Circuit, his jurisprudence may nonetheless surprise parties in some cases.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Robert Luck: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See Luck, supra n. 1 at 44.

[3] See United States v. De Los Rios, 489 F. App’x 320 (11th Cir. 2012).

[4] United States v. Hernandez, Case No. 08-21054 CR-Zloch.

[5] See United States v. Rodriguez, 537 F. App’x 840 (11th Cir. 2013).

[6] David Ovalle, Miami-Dade Judge Returns to Bench After Attack in Courtroom,  Miami Herald, Feb. 13, 2015, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article9999575.html.

[7] See id.

[8] See Florida Politics, Appeals Court Rejects Election Challenge Over Residency, State Capital Newsfeed, May 2, 2018.

[9] Florida Politics, Court Sides With Church in Priest Defamation Fight, State Capital Newsfeed, May 9, 2018.

[10] See Florida Politics, Reversals Show New Day on Supreme Court, State Capital Newsfeed, Apr. 19, 2019.

[11] See id.

[12] What’s Up With Florida’s New Supreme Court? This Case Helps Explain,  Tampa Bay Times Blogs, May 24, 2019.

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