Robert Luck, a well-respected appellate judge, was named to the Florida Supreme Court on Monday, the second judge from Miami’s appeals court to be named to the high court under new Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The governor appointed the 39-year-old Luck, who has served less than two years on the Third District Court of Appeal. Last week, in his first official act as governor, DeSantis elevated Third DCA Judge Barbara Lagoa, the first Cuban-American woman to serve on the high court.
DeSantis’ appointments for Supreme Court are part of what observers say will be a conservative makeover of the high court. The Republican governor, who was sworn in last week, will select one more candidate after Luck. DeSantis is replacing three retiring Supreme Court justices: Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who often sided together on liberal issues and against the Republican-controlled Legislature.
DeSantis made the announcement Monday morning at the Scheck Hillel Community School in Northeast Miami-Dade, a prominent Jewish school. Luck is the first Jewish justice appointed in over 20 years.
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“I am humbled, truly humbled to be standing where I went to kindergarten accepting an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court,” Luck said during a packed press conference at the school.
Luck is a former federal prosecutor who was appointed to Miami’s state circuit court in September 2013, and later won reelection, serving five years in total. Gov. Rick Scott appointed the fast-rising Luck to the Third DCA in March 2017, where he has authored over 70 opinions in less than two years.
“Everybody loves this guy,” DeSantis said, adding: “He will be a formidable force on the Florida Supreme Court.”
Born and raised in the Miami area, Luck graduated from North Miami Beach High and earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. He is married with two children. He clerked for Ed Carnes, the chief judge of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. He has been associated with The Federalist Society, a prominent organization of conservative and libertarian lawyers.
On the appellate bench, he has authored several high-profile opinions. Among them: upholding the constitutionality of a 2011 state law designed to shield some medical schools and doctors from liability in medical-malpractice cases; upholding a law that bans those ubiquitous frames that cover car license plates, and upholding the election of Joe Carrollo to the Miami City Commission.
He has also impressed legal observers with his flair for writing.
In upholding the sovereign immunity of the Miccosukee Tribe of West Miami-Dade, Luck acknowledged that elected lawmakers had made a calculated decision, forgoing the right of U.S. citizens to sue the tribe. “It is a choice to protect the tribes understanding that others may be injured and without a remedy. The immunity juice, our federal lawmakers have declared, is worth the squeeze,” Luck wrote.
“In my judgment, he has established himself as the preeminent legal writer in all of Florida,” said DeSantis, himself a licensed lawyer.
In another case siding with a man who bought a 20-carat diamond on a cruise ship for a ridiculously low price, Luck quoted a Mae West line — “Goodness had nothing to do with it” — from the 1932 movie “Night After Night.” “Goodness, too, had nothing to do with how Thomas DePrince bought his twenty-carat diamond ... DePrince knew the jewelry shop was selling the diamond for millions less than it should but said nothing,” the judge wrote.
On the criminal court bench in Miami in 2014, Luck presided over the corruption trial of former Homestead Mayor Steven Bateman, sentencing him to 22 months in prison.
Luck also made the news when a defendant charged him from the gallery. In the scrum, Luck suffered a scratch to his neck and a laceration to the back of the head but declined medical attention from paramedics. The man, Ricardo Garganelly, was pulled off the judge and was charged with battery on an elected official. Luck returned to work the next day.
He recounted the incident in his application to the Supreme Court. “Hearing about the incident in Tallahassee, then-Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote me this note: ‘I want to commend you for the professionalism you displayed in handling what must have been a very disturbing situation. Your coolness and understanding was exemplary.’”
No confirmation is needed for either of DeSantis’ appointees to the high court. Lagoa and Luck have already been sworn in. At 39, Luck is the youngest justice and could serve until he’s 75.