TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist ran afoul of the state Constitution when he refused to fill an appeals court seat because all of the picks submitted to him were white, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled.
The high court also ruled Thursday that Crist must make a judicial selection from the all-white list of six names for the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach.
Crist, complaining Dec. 1 that none of ''three well-qualified African-Americans'' made the cut, asked the nominating commission to send him more names. But the commission refused.
In a written statement Thursday, Crist said he was ''disappointed'' with the ruling, but he will comply with it. ''I remain committed to ensuring that the diversity of the people of Florida is represented in our judiciary,'' Crist said.
The court said the Constitution couldn't be ignored.
''While we applaud the governor's interest in achieving diversity in the judiciary -- an interest we believe to be genuine and well-intentioned -- the Constitution does not grant the governor the discretion to refuse or postpone making an appointment to fill the vacancy on the Fifth District Court of Appeal,'' Justice Jorge Labarga, a Crist appointee, wrote on behalf of the court.
Labarga, a Cuban American, was a key player in Crist's controversial efforts to bring more diversity to the bench.
Late last year, after a Supreme Court nominating commission forwarded Labarga's name to Crist, the Republican selected him to sit on an appeals court, instead. Crist then asked the commission to send him more diverse candidates for the Supreme Court seat. After a contentious late-night phone conference, the commission nominated Frank Jimenez, another Cuban American and a U.S. Navy attorney who had worked for both Jeb and George Bush.
A group of high-powered lawyers protested the process. Some critics said it had become too political. Crist, now a U.S. Senate candidate for the 2010 election, denied the charge. He then elevated Labarga to the Supreme Court seat vacated by Raoul Cantero, the state's first Hispanic justice.
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