Judge T. Kent Wetherell – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida

A nonpartisan jurist with close ties to Florida Democrats, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell looks fairly likely to receive a bipartisan confirmation to the federal bench.


The son of former Florida State House Speaker T. Kent Wetherell, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell II was born in Daytona Beach on August 26, 1970.  When Wetherell was ten, his father was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he would serve for twelve years, the last two as speaker.  For his part, Wetherell graduated magna cum laude from Florida State University and with High Honors from Florida State University College of Law.[1]

After graduating, Wetherell joined Hopping Green Sams & Smith in Tallahassee as an Associate.  Four years later, he joined the Florida Attorney General’s Office under Democrat Bob Butterworth as Deputy Solicitor General.[2]

In 2002, Wetherell became an Administrative Law Judge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.[3]  In 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to be a Judge on the First District Court of Appeal, where he serves to this day.

History of the Seat

The seat Wetherell has been nominated for opened on Dec. 31, 2015, with Judge John Smoak’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.  Acting on the recommendations of the JNC, President Obama nominated Philip Lammens, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, to fill the vacancy.[4]  However, even though Lammens had the support of both Nelson and Rubio, he never received a hearing in the 114th Congress and his nomination was returned unconfirmed upon the election of Donald Trump.

In early 2017, Rubio and Nelson jointly recommended that Trump renominate Lammens and two other unsuccessful Obama nominees.[5]  However, while one of the other picks, William Jung, was renominated, Lammens was not.  Meanwhile, the JNC recommended Wetherell for the Northern District alongside three other candidates on November 16, 2017.[6]  Wetherell was nominated alongside another finalist, Judge Allen Winsor.[7]

Legal Experience

Wetherell started his career at the Tallahassee firm of Hopping Green Sams & Smith, where he practiced land use law, mostly representing developers seeking municipal approval.  He also worked as a lobbyist, handling matters related to the Administrative Procedure Act and the motor vehicle lemon law.

From 1999 to 2002, Wetherell served as Deputy Solicitor General under the newly created Solicitor General’s Office.  In this capacity, Wetherell handled appeals on behalf of the state, but also participated in trial efforts seeking to shield media attention from Dale Earnhart’s autopsy photos.[8]


Wetherell has served as a judge since 2002, serving as an Administrative Judge for seven years, and as a judge on the First District Court of Appeal for the last nine years.  In the former position, Wetherell handled licensing, permitting, and discrimination claims on an administrative level.  In the latter, Wetherell heard civil and criminal appeals from the Florida Circuit Courts.  During his time as an appellate judge, Wetherell heard approximately 6500 cases.[9]  Of these cases, Wetherell has been reversed three times.

In the first matter where Wetherell was reversed, he ruled that legislators were protected from being deposed in challenges to congressional reapportionment by legislative immunity.[10]  The Florida Supreme Court reversed over a dissent by Justice Charles Canady, finding that legislative privilege did not apply in the matter as legislative intent was essential for the lawsuit.[11]  In the second, Wetherell upheld an agency determination that the City of Miami could unilaterally modify a collective bargaining agreement with the police under the “financial urgency statute,” and the Florida Supreme Court reversed.[12]  In the third, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Wetherell’s ruling upholding a defendant’s convictions for use of a computer to solicit a minor and traveling to meet a minor.[13]

Political Activity

Wetherell has a fairly limited political history, including campaigning for his father in his state house campaigns.  For his own part, Wetherell has just one contribution of record, to Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat-turned-Republican.[14]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Wetherell looks to be set for a comfortable confirmation.  His record shows little that is controversial and he is the product of a well-respected bipartisan commission.  Furthermore, given his ties to Florida Democrats including his father, Crist, and Butterworth, it is unlikely that he will draw strong opposition.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., T. Kent Wetherell II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Press Release, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on United States District Courts (Apr. 28, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/).

[5] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio and Nelson Ask Trump to Keep Judicial Picks They Sent to Obama, Florida Times-Union, Mar. 23, 2017, https://www.jacksonville.com/news/national/2017-03-23/rubio-and-nelson-ask-trump-keep-judicial-picks-they-sent-obama.  

[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 Thirteenth Wave of Judicial Nominees, and Seventh Wave of United States Marshal Nominees (April 26, 2018) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[8] See Wetherell, supra n.1 at 37.

[9] Id. at 16-17.

[10] Fla. House of Representatives v. Romo, 113 So. 3d 117 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

[11] League of Women Voters of Florida v. Fla. House of Representatives, 132 So. 3d 135 (Fla. 2013).

[12] Headley v. City of Miami, 118 So. 3d 885 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), quashed, 215 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 2017).

[13] Griffis v. State, 133 So. 3d 650 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), quashed, 2016 WL 1664979 (Fla. Apr. 27, 2016).

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.


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]


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.


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]


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).