Justice Barbara Lagoa – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Barbara Lagoa, a Justice on the Florida Supreme Court, would be Trump’s first nonwhite nominee to the Eleventh Circuit, and would flip the court to being evenly divided between the genders, a rare case of gender progress on the bench in the last few years.

Background

Barbara Lagoa was born in Miami in 1967.  After getting a B.A. with honors from Florida International University, Lagoa joined Columbia University Law School, graduating in 1992.  After graduating, Lagoa worked in private practice in Miami, moving between the firms of Morgan Lewis & Brockius LLP, Schulte Blum McMahon Joblove & Haft, Cohen Berke Bernstein Brodie & Kondell, P.A., and Greenberg Traurig.

In 2003, Lagoa became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  In 2006, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida.  In 2019, she was elevated by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Lagoa was tapped for a Florida seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Stanley Marcus.  Notably, Lagoa was nominated only months after she joined the Florida Supreme Court.

Legal Experience

Before she became a judge, Lagoa gained experience in both civil and criminal law, working in private practice and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  However, perhaps the most prominent case that Lagoa handled was her representation of Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami-based great uncle of Elian Gonzalez.[1]  Gonzalez left Cuba with his mother and her boyfriend, who both died during the boat journey into Florida.[2]  The push to return Gonzalez to Cuba caused significant partisan conflict as well as intervention by both Congress and the Clinton Administration.[3]  In representing the family, Lagoa represented them in the media and court proceedings seeking to block Elian’s removal to Cuba.[4]  Elian was ultimately returned to his father’s family in Cuba after intervention by Attorney General Janet Reno after court intervention was rejected.

Jurisprudence

Lagoa has served on the Florida Supreme Court for approximately eight months, before which she was a judge on the Court of Appeal of Florida for thirteen years.  On both courts, Lagoa has developed a conservative jurisprudence.  Her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019, alongside that of Judges Carlos Muniz and Robert Luck, flipped the court from a liberal majority to a conservative one.  This new conservative majority reversed several decisions made by the previous majority, with the only holdover majority judge, Judge Jorge Labarga, in dissent.[5]

For example, in one case, Lagoa 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.[6]  In a different case, Lagoa joined the majority in reversing another 4-3 Florida Supreme Court ruling and allowing Florida legislative standards for expert witnesses to be entered, even as her fellow conservative Robert Luck excoriated the court for failing to follow proper procedures in reversing itself.[7]

Overall Assessment

With extensive experience as an appellate judge and as a Supreme Court justice, Lagoa is certainly well-qualified for an appellate seat.  While she may draw questions about her conservative jurisprudence, it is likely to be expected that this Administration will put out conservative candidates.  As such, Lagoa would likely be confirmed fairly comfortably.


[1] Tom Raum, Capitol Hill Wary on Cuban Boy, A.P. Online, Jan. 27, 2000.

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See, e.g.,  Wolf Blitzer, Mark Potter, Federal Court Begins Examining Complicated International Custody Battle Over Elian Gonzalez, CNN The World Today, Mar. 9, 2000.

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

[6] See id.

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

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